As my other litter question stated, I live on a semi-rural road, and about twice a year pick up litter from the verge. Others pick up litter too, but there are swathes of floodplain land, conservation land, as yet undeveloped land, two houses owned by very old people....The result is that I do most of the litter pick-up, both sides, for about 1.5 miles.

It's a lot. So far, I don't have to be selective about what I pick up, but if I do, what should my priorities be, from the point of view of the wildlife in the area?

Number one priority in terms of wildlife is six-pack plastic webbing. After that, plastic bags which are number one in terms of unsightliness. And after these two items -- plastic bottles, glass bottles, broken glass, foam cups, some old styrofoam (it's being phased out in our area), plastic food containers, metal cans, occasional auto parts, cardboard, paper and occasional unidentified stuff. That's it. Is there anything it would be better to leave? For example, is the one old tire in the middle of brambles useful habitat for some critter?

Edit in Response to Comments:

(1) Restricting the list of litter: I've given a complete list above. Aside from the one old tire I mentioned, there is nothing I cannot pick up easily with one hand.

(2) Wildlife: Deer, foxes, (and reputedly coyotes), and all the small furry animals from raccoons down to voles. A variety of snakes and amphibians. Also birds.

  • 3
    I might be the minority but I think this answer is too broad to be answerable unless you restrict the list of items that can be littered along your rural road. I don't know what's littered on your road (or in your pocket). I've seen many strange things on the side of the road ranging from stripped cars, refrigerators, TV's, bottles of urine, couches, pools of antifreeze, six-pack plastic webbing (known bird/animal hazard), etc.
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 2:54
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    A word about your wildlife wouldn't be bad either :)
    – OddDeer
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 6:01
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    @Erik No to all the items you mention, except for the occasional six-pack plastic webbing. Thanks for reminding me of that. Aside for one old tire completely surrounded by brambles, there is nothing big -- nothing I cannot pick up easily with one hand. The great majority of the stuff is probably tossed with one hand out of a moving car. Part of the problem is that the litter is not easily seen by a driver, who has a different set of things on which he/she must focus, but it is all too obvious to a passenger.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 0:11
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    @OddDeer Wildlife added to Q.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 0:16

2 Answers 2


The thing here to consider most is the biodegradability of what is littered along a roadside. There are items which you can leave and will breakdown pretty quickly - like tissues, papers, and thinner cardboards - though 'quickly' is relative, they will degrade faster than plastics. And most food waste, though things like apple cores are acidic, it's not a high volume and nature can take its course with this kind of waste.

Tin cans, drinks cans and plastic bottles take a long time to break down and are much better off being picked up and put in a recycling bin. In the UK to prevent littering of plastic bags there's been a two fold attempt to fix the issue - one, the bags are now much more biodegradable than they were and break down in UV, and two, they are no longer free! If bags are a big issue for you collect them up - give them a rinse, dry them out and reuse them (carrier bags make great small bin bags etc).

Many plastics and rubbers, such as tyres (though these are often synthetic), release toxins as they degrade or if they're set fire to and are not healthy for the environment at all - a habitat is only as good as it's soil, if the soil is unhealthy then the habitat will suffer. Plus they're breeding grounds for a couple of nasty flying insects. Better off taking a tyre to a decent recycling centre that won't burn it - or find a charity that will reuse them, they can be turned into pretty decently insulating walls.

The more you can take, really the better. Unfortunately litter is a battle that's going on world wide, and there are plenty of people who are fighting the battle with you - so don't feel disheartened!

If you want to know more about some inspiring people, let me know in chat - I won't plug them here ;)


This is an addition to Aravona's excellent answer. Plastic litter poses especial dangers to wildlife. See here, posted by Defenders of Wildlife.

In the Ocala National Forest of Florida, a black bear cub digs through trash, only to have its head become encased entirely in a plastic jar.

The Winter 2016 issue of Defenders quoted a "recent study" published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that 90% of seabirds have plastic in their guts.

Birds mistake plastic pieces for food....Sharp edges can fatally puncture internal organs, and an accumulation of plastic in the gut leaves little room for food.

What does the plight of seabirds have to do with roadsite litter? Not much, if you are in the middle of, say, the Mojave Desert. But heavy rainfall in my area can carry litter into Difficult Run, which flows into the Potomac, which flows into Chesapeake Bay.


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