“Raise your hand if you’re against littering,” said Mr. A,
“And now raise your hand if you’ve littered before.”
So if no one likes littering, then why is it a problem? Littering is just another example of The Tragedy of the Commons. When you litter, the positive effects (it’s quick, easy, and convenient) go directly to you, while the negative effects (it’s ugly, takes a while to decompose, and is bad for plants and animals) are spread out.
Plastic is a particularly big problem. A simple water bottle, like the one above, will take about 450 years to decompose. Why? Because plastic is a relatively new addition to the biosphere, so plants and animals have not evolved to be able to digest it. Because of that, it can cause long-lasting problems, particularly if it ends up in the ocean.
In the pacific ocean, for example, the currents pull garbage created by several different countries into one large patch. The precise size of the patch is difficult to measure, but some scientists believe it to be twice the size of Texas. Because the patch is in international waters, no country takes responsibility for it. And it’s not going to decompose any time soon. So the next time you feel like littering, don’t. Recycle that plastic bottle, or don’t use one in the first place!