The High Price Of Garbage

I haven’t had time to write very much on Sparrow Chat of late as I’ve been busy on other projects. That will soon be rectified. I have managed to keep track of your comments and other writing.

One of my good blogging pals today sent me an article from a British newspaper.[1] It concerned a young heifer found wandering round a field with the drum from an old washing machine stuck over her head, no doubt the result of natural bovine curiosity as to what was inside, and whether it was edible.

While the story undoubtedly has its lighter side, one has to stop a moment and consider what would have happened to the beast if human intervention had not come to the rescue? It may well have died.

After many years with the British RSPCA, it became second nature for me to wash out, or crush, old food cans before discarding them. Taking a pair of scissors to the plastic rings used for holding six-pack drink-cans is also a habit I developed, having seen the havoc wreaked on wildlife by such items.

Human society has become very sophisticated over the centuries; all our food comes pre-packed, refuse disposal trucks remove our garbage almost without us noticing. No wonder we spare little thought for what happens to all those items no longer serving a purpose in our lives, confined to the trashcan – out of sight, out of mind.

Much of our waste ends up in landfill sites. Anyone who’s been to a municipal tip knows the majority of its occupants are wild animals and birds. The landfill provides a ready food supply for wild creatures, but along with its bounty comes a dreadful price in suffering and death. Our used food tins are lethal to those mammals with heads just big enough to fit inside an empty bean or meat can. Dense fur acts as an effective seal. It takes no more than three or four breaths before the air in the bottom of the tin is exhausted and the animal suffocates. It’s not just wild animals that are effected. Over the years, I saw numerous examples of domestic pets whose lives ended in this manner. Cats are frequently victims of the menace.

While a loose can is unlikely to cause problems, those on a landfill are often half buried in debris, making a more secure container that won’t roll around; much easier for an animal to get its head inside. When the can is originally opened, often the lid is only partially cut around with the opener, bent upwards to pour out the contents, then pushed back down inside before being discarded. This allows an animal’s head easy access inwards, but acts as a razor-sharp barrier, cutting into the creature’s head and neck when it tries to withdraw itself.

There are two simple remedies; wash out cans to remove all trace of food before we discard, and, when possible, crush the container. If not, at least remove the lid completely.

We all buy canned drinks that come in a handy six-pack. Whoever invented the flexible plastic device that neatly holds the cans together probably made a fortune. Unfortunately, the rise of the six-pack has been responsible for the demise of thousands of animals and birds.

The plastic holder comprises not only six flexible rings, but a number of other, smaller, holes as well. Altogether, the device is fiendishly efficient at trapping many species of animals, birds, and even fish. As an RSPCA inspector, I soon lost count of the number of occasions I was called to assist creatures caught up in these things, or the many different species I encountered. The list seemed endless. Swans, or other waterbirds, secured around the neck or bill; small mammals, their heads through one of the holes, and a foot (or feet) caught up as they struggled to get clear. Hardly a week went by I didn’t encounter problems from this one piece of deadly plastic, and while freeing one creature brought immense satisfaction, the lingering question was always how many never got rescued and died a lingering death?

Preventing this large-scale suffering is so very simple. A few moments spent snipping through the plastic with scissors, until no holes remain, is all that’s required.

We’ll all find it hard to resist smiling at the sight of the British heifer above, in such a ludicrous predicament. Yet, she was one of the lucky ones. The next time you’re about to throw some packing material or other garbage into the trashcan, just pause for a moment. Stop to consider whether you’re throwing away an item that could prove lethal to any animal. If so, ask yourself how it can be rendered safe.

Often, it only takes a moment, but that moment of your time could save a life.

[1] “Cow who got into a spin” Daily Mail, September 1st 2008

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7 Replies to “The High Price Of Garbage”

  1. I was reminded of our beloved black spaniel Toby, fiendishly clever, who got into the big glass cookie jar by getting the wooden lid off with his teeth and then sticking his head in the jar, eating all the cookies, then running out of air, failing to get the jar off his head and finally smashing it on the floor.
    We came home to a proud prancing Toby, wearing a jagged glass collar which would have sliced his neck open if he had lain down.
    I’ve been mindful ever since of the dangers to pets and other animals that lie all around us in ordinary everyday things.
    Thanks for this post.

  2. Thanks from me too, RJ. Timely good advice.

    I’ll be glad when environmental concerns start to force elimination of much of the packing material we now encounter with every item we buy. It’s 90% superfluous, mostly non-degradable – serves no discernable purpose other than putting the price up, and maybe ease of packing or stacking.

  3. Thanks for a good post.
    Of course, the other alternative, not mentioned, is to recycle. Recycling tins and other rubbish means that they don’t end up in landfill.
    The plastic rings are a bit harder, but I’ve got round those by only buying those cider tins (very West Country!) which come in cardboard packaging, not those encased in plastic.

  4. Good article. We recycle the cans here, and the dreaded plastic ring thing is required, by law, to be cut, for the sake of our water birds. A local artist has painted fish stensils on all drains to remind people that fish actually live down where they’re throwing their poisons… all in all, maybe because the wild environment is so close to home here, we can never close our eyes to it.

    I would also like to add, for animal’s sake, not to get an exotic pet unless you are going to be absolutely and completely thorough about learning how to take care of it. I spent a lot of time babysitting traumatized exotic birds in the Stanley Park aviary and i don’t think there’s a sadder sight on earth than a beautiful bird who has suffered so much that they can’t sing anymore.

  5. WWW – Toby was a fortunate dog. Had it been a plastic jar he probably would not have survived.

    Twilight – remember the days before pre-packaging? It was also the days before supermarkets.

    Jo – recycling is a great way to deal with the problem. Sadly, the UK is far more advanced down that road than the superpower across the pond. Neither have they heard of West Country cider – more’s the pity!

    Anan – thank you for sending me the original link. Yes, exotic pets are a constant problem, or at least, those who acquire them are. Canada, like Britain, is not afraid to legislate, though neither get it right 100% of the time. When I first arrived in America, I was shocked at the animal welfare situation here in the US heartlands. It’s virtually non-existent. I was reminded of the UK fifty or more years ago.

    Flimsy – the article failed to define how the cow was finally relieved of the wash tub. Here’s how I would have approached it:
    Being on a farm they’d have had a portable confinement pen. This is an open pen on wheels, made of scaffolding-type tubes, and just big enough to confine the animal and prevent it thrashing about. Having ‘persuaded’ the beast inside, manpower would have done the rest, though it may have been necessary to apply lots of Vaseline or similar grease to the beast’s neck area. If all else failed, then the local fire brigade would be summoned. They have specialist cutting equipment. Finally, if success was still elusive, a local veterinarian would be called to administer anesthesia while the offending tub was cut away. Neither of the last two are normally necessary, however. With lots of farm manpower to hang onto the object, a cow will usually extricate itself without much problem.
    An RSPCA Inspector is presented with problems of this nature on an almost daily basis. One learns to quickly develop resourcefulness.

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