I'll admit it. I've littered. Probably not since high school, but I've done it. The thing is, at the time, I had no idea that the plastic that I was tossing on the street might end up in Lake Michigan via the storm drains. I had no idea that storm drains typically empty into water sources and oceans.
And based on the amount of plastic ending up in our lakes and oceans, it sounds like there are many, many people unaware of where their litter might end up.
The story Remote Waters Offer No Refuge from Plastic Trash, which aired on NPR's All Things considered on October 1, 2007, focuses on how plastic waste being flushed through our storm drains is making its way into some of the most remote sections of our oceans and ending up in the bellies and around the necks of the creatures living there.
According to the article, trash flushed into the Pacific Ocean gets picked up by circular currents, known as the North Pacific Gyre, and brought far, far away to parts of the ocean like the Midway Atoll. There, animals either mistake the plastic for food and ingest it or curiously play with it and get themselves caught. This can sometimes result in death for the animal.
The endanged Hawaiian monk seal, of which there are only 1,000 left, is especially susceptible to these dangers due to their entirely curious nature. Other animals at risk include whales, dolphins, fish, many varieties of seabirds, and the world's coral reefs.
The moral of the story: Don't litter because your trash is dirtying our water sources and killing baby seals.