The Effects of Garbage on the Environment


The United States alone generated 251 million tons of trash in 2006 according to National Geographic website. The effects of this trash on the environment stretches from the skies to the oceans. Sometimes excess garbage affects humans and animals directly with disease and death, and other times it merely damages the ecosystems where they live, forcing them to move elsewhere. The attempt to minimize the effect of garbage on the environment is one of the more important current aims of scientific research.


  • The practice of burning garbage in backyards is often a cause of house fires, forest fires and brush fires. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 35 percent of wildfires in the state of Wisconsin began when people burned garbage, excess grass and brush. People often leave burning barrels of trash in forests or in their backyards unattended, which is how damaging fires start.

Plastic in the Oceans

  • One of the biggest effects of garbage on the oceans is from plastic waste. The Ocean Conservancy reports that plastic bags are among the most common types of debris found when people clean up coastal areas. One example of the environmental effects of trash on the ocean is an area in the Pacific known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. According to National Geographic, this patch of ocean in the Pacific has about 1.9 million bits of plastic per square mile. This plastic blocks sunlight from reaching plankton, which kills them off. Sea turtles choke to death when they eat plastic bags because they think the bags are the turtles’ favorite food -- jellyfish.

Other Oceanic Effects

  • Other examples of areas affected by garbage include coral reefs. Fishing gear gets caught in reefs and it smothers them. Fishing nets destroy entire areas of plants. Garbage dumping in the oceans also has an effect on invasive species. According to the EPA, debris dumped by humans has caused the number of species found in the subtropics to double. Invasive species often disrupt entire ecosystems and threaten the survival of animals living in those systems.


  • According to the National Geographic, 55 percent of all trash is buried in landfills. Only 33 percent is recycled and approximately 12 percent is burned in incinerators, which means it enters the atmosphere. If any of this trash contains dangerous chemicals, it leaches directly into the ground and water supply of the local area or else ends up in the atmosphere.

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