Litter can be found most places where humans have been. Plastic bottles, food, beverage cans and bags filled with who knows what can be seen while driving, walking or biking just about anywhere.

Plastic bags trapped on tree branches and bushes whirl in the wind and flap back and forth like ugly flags.

Synonyms for the word litter include clutter, mess, disorder, jumble and confusion.

The last synonym -- confusion -- is what I feel when I see discarded trash. It is so easy to carry our rubbish home with us in our vehicles and throw it away in our trash cans. If we are walking, we can hold onto it or stash it in a pocket or purse to discard later.

Litter not only is unsightly, but it potentially is dangerous to wildlife and to humans.

A recent segment of WOSU-TV's "Our Ohio" demonstrated how harmful discarded food and trash can be to birds -- in particular, such birds of prey as falcons, hawks, owls and vultures.

They swoop on the edge of or in the middle of roadways to capture human trash and can get hit by vehicles. Often, too, what they thought was food is not, and they're injured by sharp or contaminated products.

Without much effort, an internet search shows many websites teaching the harmful effects of litter on wildlife. They all agree wildlife and domesticated animals of all kinds often mistake trash for food or shelter.

As a result, they can become trapped inside plastic bags, get tangled in kite string, fishing line, ribbon or wire, and get their heads trapped inside jars or cans. A piece of chewing gum can become matted in the feathers of a bird, making it impossible to fly.

Oil and grease can cause the same problems for birds.

Some food and cleaning agents discarded are toxic to animals. If they ingest such objects as deflated balloons, their digestive tracts can be blocked and they eventually cannot eat.

Animals can cut themselves on cans and broken glass -- injuries that could be fatal or lead to infection.

Your own pets could fall victim to these dangers if they come across litter on walks or even in your backyard.

What can we do? Besides the obvious solutions with our own trash and recyclables, we can cut up plastic six-pack rings before recycling them, wash recyclables, tie a knot in the middle of plastic bags to be recycled and make sure garbage-can lids fits securely.

Before recycling, rinse and crush soda cans, and dispose of any leftover household cleaning products and other toxic chemicals properly.

The simplest solution is to avoid littering purposefully.

Matt Bruning, press secretary with the Ohio Department of Transportation, quickly answered my query about litter hazards to motorists and the cost of cleanup.

He said litter on roadways is a serious issue that ODOT deals with year-round, but especially in the spring.

"Unsecured loads and carelessly tossed trash can be big problems for motorists," Bruning said. "Litter can get into storm drains and cause flooding issues on our highways.

"Items falling off vehicles can obviously present a serious hazard to other motorists, either as they fall or before ODOT crews are able to respond and pick them up."

Bruning said ODOT uses its own employees, as well as volunteers through the Adopt-A-Highway program and inmates from local county jails and state facilities to clean roadways.

"While the inmates aren't paid for their work, we do have to pay the guards," he said. "The only 'free' litter-pickup labor is the volunteers of Adopt-A-Highway."

Bruning said ODOT spends about $4 million annually collecting 400,000 bags of trash from along Ohio roadways.

"The costs for picking up litter represent money that could be better spent," he said. "All of these costs are avoidable if everyone would simply do the right thing and dispose of their trash in the appropriate place. It's also important to secure your load if you're hauling things."

Road hazards, risks to wildlife and domesticated animals, unsightly messes, a gargantuan cost to clean up -- all are avoidable.

One by one, we can do the right thing.

Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by Day column for ThisWeek Community News. Contact her at