How Littering Hurts Animals

This lesson plan is designed to help teachers present animal rights issues to their students. If you’re an educator, please feel free to adapt this material to fit your needs, and contact us if you need help incorporating this activity into your curriculum.

Suggested grade levels: Kindergarten–12th grade

Objectives: To supplement a lesson on recycling, proper disposal of trash, or environmental consciousness; teach personal responsibility; and raise awareness of the way that our actions affect other beings and the environment

It’s obvious that littering hurts the environment, and most schools do a unit on how important it is to dispose of our trash and recyclables properly. But litter doesn’t just pollute our forests, beaches, and sidewalks. Did you know that it can also be deadly to animals? Everyday items such as soda cans and plastic bottles can be lethal to unsuspecting wildlife and even dogs and cats. The good news? We can all do our part and take a little extra care to make sure our trash won’t hurt our animal friends!

If you’re teaching a lesson on recycling or making eco-friendly choices, share the following photos, videos, and simple tricks with your students to help prevent animals from suffering while also teaching environmental responsibility:

Soda Rings

Feral Cat With Six-Pack Ring Around Neck

What can happen: Six-packs of soda often come strung together by plastic rings. This feral cat got her head caught in one of the rings.

How students can help: Cut apart all sections of plastic six-pack rings, including the inner diamonds.

Fishing Line and Hooks

What can happen: Birds frequently get their beaks wrapped or wings tangled up in discarded fishing line. Hooks can be swallowed or become embedded in birds’ skin or beaks.

How students can help: Never go fishing! If you spot litter left by fishers, pick it up and dispose of it.

Soda Cans


What can happen: Even the tiniest animals can fall victim to litter. Discarded soda cans are tempting to small animals who are looking for food or shade. Luckily, this little skunk was freed during a beach cleanup. Animals can also be cut by cans’ sharp edges.

How students can help: Be sure to dispose of your cans responsibly. Rinse and crush cans before tossing them into the recycling bin. You can also fold the tab back to block off the hole on the top.


What can happen: Animals often step in gum, which can become matted in their fur or feathers, making it difficult for them to move.

How students can help: Never discard gum on the ground. Wrap it in paper and dispose of it in a proper receptacle.

Tin Cans, Cups, and Jars


What can happen: Hungry animals desperate for even just a few crumbs often get their heads stuck in discarded cans, cups, and jars.

How students can help: Always rinse out containers (and place the lids back on them!) and crush metal cans before disposing of them.

Plastic Bottles and Bags

Plastic bottle litter on top of a patch of grass

What can happen: Whales, turtles, and seabirds often mistake trash for food, and if eaten, it can choke them or cause fatal stomach or bowel obstructions.

How students can help: When shopping, choose paper bags or take your own reusable bags whenever possible.

If you want to take the lesson a step further, ask students to complete the following assignments outside of school for extra credit:

  • Animals of all kinds often mistake trash for food or shelter, so ask students to make sure that their family securely covers the garbage cans and recycling bins they have at home to ensure that animals can’t get into them and get stuck inside.
  • Encourage your class to keep an eye out for other people’s trash, too. Organize a park, beach, or neighborhood cleanup on a Saturday so that students can spend an hour or two picking up litter. Their actions could be the difference between life and death for an animal!
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