6 Common Activities That Harm Wildlife

Sometimes we forget that nearly everything we do has an impact on the world around us. Here are six common activities that many of us don’t realize have a negative effect on wildlife:

1. Using Products with Microbeads

Microbeads Make Killer Soap!
Microbeads are the small plastics found in some exfoliating soaps. These slip through filtration systems and into waterways where fish think they are tasty snacks. Use soaps with natural exfoliates. Artwork by Joanna B, Flickr.
Have you ever noticed those tiny plastic balls found in facial cleansers, body scrubs and other hygienic products that are supposed to exfoliate your skin? It sounds luxurious; but in fact, these “microbeads” don’t really do much for your skin, and do a lot to harm wildlife.

Once those beads wash down the drain, they slide through filtration systems and flow into waterways where they look like delicious treats to unsuspecting fish. Not only are the fish eating plastic, but the beads actually absorb pollutants from the air and water, which give them a double dose of toxicity. Incidentally, we eat some of those fish.

Illinois was the first state to introduce a ban on products containing microbeads, and several states have introduced legislation to follow suit. I recommend you introduce a microbead ban in your home today!

2. Using Sunscreen

Sunscreen ingredients cause coral bleaching
Sunscreen ingredients cause coral bleaching, which destroys these beautiful and diverse underwater ecosystems. Use eco-friendly, biodegradable sunscreen instead. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Stephen Kirkpatrick.
Doctors recommend we wear sunscreen every day, but if we want to protect the health of our world’s coral reefs, we need to be more careful about which sunscreens we buy.

This study from the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that several common ingredients in sunscreen, most notably benzophenone-2, contribute to coral bleaching, which leaves the coral vulnerable to disease and death. Coral provides shelter to 25 percent of marine species.

Instead, use eco-friendly biodegradable sunscreen. And if you haven’t already, go snorkeling or scuba diving to see first-hand the beautiful ecosystem that coral reefs provide. 


3. Feeding Bread to Birds

Don't feed bread to ducks!
Don’t feed bread to ducks! Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Bonnie Flamer.
Most of us have fed bread to birds before, thinking we’re helping the little guys out with a nice meal. In fact, bread has little nutritional value to offer, and when birds such as ducks, geese and swans rely on bread for food, they can become malnourished or worse. “Angel wing,” although it sounds like a good thing, is a disorder that stems from high-carbohydrate diets which causes the last joint in one or both wings to unnaturally turn outward, making the birds unable to fly.

Next time, try feeding your bird friends some duck pellets, kale, sliced grapes, or birdseed.

4. Using Bleached Products

Christopher Craig-flickr
Pulp and paper mills create by-products that poison wildlife. Photo from Christopher Craig, Flickr.
Toilet paper, paper towels and coffee filters are all white because they are bleached. Companies bleach these products because apparently it looks nicer, and their main goal is to get you to buy, at cost to wildlife.

The chlorine bleach used to whiten your toilet paper creates by-products known as dioxins. In laboratory studies, dioxins have been shown to affect the reproduction, development, and immune system in animals.

So, buy products that have not been bleached and guests will be impressed with your home’s “rustic chic” look.

5. Removing Weeds

Monarchs need milkweed to lay their eggs.
Monarchs need milkweed to lay their eggs. Photo by David Mizejewski.
We tend to think of weeds as pests, but so-called “weeds” have benefits, too. Weeds stabilize the soil, absorb water and nutrients, can help control insects, and provide habitat and food for wildlife and humans. In fact, they are “weeds” only because we perceive them that way, rather than valuing their benefits.

The monarch butterfly cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars can only eat milkweed and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. A terrible misnomer; a more appropriate name for milkweed would be “monarch flower.” Other weeds, such as lamb’s quarters and goldenrod, protect your plants by luring away damaging insects. Both are also edible and have double the nutritional value of spinach.

“Weeds” play an integral part in providing refuge to the incredible diversity of wildlife that richen our gardens.

6. Using Plastic Bags

Plastic bags pollute our oceans and harm wildlife.
Plastic bags pollute our oceans and harm wildlife. Photo from NOAA National Ocean Service Education Web Site.
Okay, this one is pretty obvious. Many states even have a plastic bag tax or ban. But though we all know that plastic bags are bad for the environment, maybe we don’t know the exact impact on wildlife.

Thousands of turtles, seals, whales, and birds are killed each year from plastic bag litter, as they are often mistaken for food like jellyfish. Once eaten, plastic bags cannot by digested or passed by the animal, and so they just stay in the gut, which can lead to a slow and painful death. Plastic bags also take up to 1,000 years to break down, so, like a virus, once its victim dies, the bag goes on to kill other wildlife.

Luckily, plastic bags are recyclable. Click here to find a location near you.

Write a comment and let us know the daily changes you are making to reduce your harmful impact on wildlife.