We’re talkin’ trash: Litter on the trails

I think a lot of us might have a story like this from some point in our lives or other.

I remember one time, when I was 12 or 13 or so, going out for a bike ride one Saturday morning. As I was rounding the corner, a car – might have been a pickup or an SUV – came driving by, and the occupant (not sure if it was the driver or a passenger) pitched a beer bottle out the window. It landed on the street and shattered, about five feet in front of me (and my bike tires).

Needless to say, I was pretty miffed.

And then there was the time, years later, when I was going for an early-evening bike trek (more than a few miles) with my family on the Memorial Day weekend, just as I’d come home from college for the summer. As we were starting on the road back toward home, a passing motorist tossed a cardboard carton of Bacardi rum bottles (empty) out the window, where they landed in a ditch in front of us. We scooped up the bottles, took them home, put them in the recycling bin, and then wrote a rather snarky letter to the local paper:

“To the person who pitched the Bacardi bottles out of their window on (such and such road) at 6:15 p.m. on (date): Real classy, Jack. But don’t worry, we took them home and recycled them. You’re welcome.”

Yes, I know, that’s snark on steroids. But I’ll be honest. As a hiker, biker and someone whose family has been recycling since long before people started talking about “going green,” I’ve got no patience for people who intentionally toss their litter out onto the roads – or hiking trails.

First, there’s the obvious risk that litter poses to the local wildlife and the waterways. Second, it’s just ugly and gross.

The two stories that I just told, might I add, have additional public safety issues: A: the fact that they were alcohol bottles means that someone might have been drinking and driving, and B: the flying bottles came very close to hitting someone. But for the purposes of the blog, I’m going to concentrate on the littering aspect.

(And to the trolls out there – where I come from, “tree-hugging hippie” is considered a compliment of the highest order.)

It’s almost inevitable that you’re going to see some litter out on any heavily-used hiking trail these days, whether the litter blew in from somewhere else – a definite issue after a major storm – or someone intentionally dropped it there.

I’m able to pick up a few pieces here and there – a water bottle, a beer can, a discarded potato chip bag – and stick them in my pack so I can recycle/trash them when I get home. But let’s face it, a lot of times there’s more trash on the trail than one hiker’s able to deal with. And it can be a little frustrating.

A lot of you reading this blog are probably familiar with the Center for Outdoor Ethics, also known as Leave No Trace.

The group’s mission, basically, is to encourage everyone who ventures into the outdoors to minimize the human impact upon the land. That includes not digging up or cutting down any trees or plants, not harassing the local wildlife, no spraying graffiti on the rocks (a real problem up at the lookouts on the Palisades), and taking every piece of trash that you brought in back out with you. Generally, leave the outdoors as you found them, so others can enjoy them.

Geocaching.com, the main website for geocaching, has an initiative called “Cache in, Trash Out;” it encourages geocachers to bring a bag with them to pick up any pieces of trash they might find while they’re out caching.

Some of the state and national parks around here have cleanup days, where they invite members of the public to come in with trash bags and help pick up litter. A lot of times, the resulting pile of full trash bags gets to be pretty sizeable.

So what do we do?

Basically, if everyone followed a few simple guidelines, the litter problem might be a little more manageable.

If you’ve got an outdoor trash can, make sure it’s got a secure lid on it – a definite must if you live in bear country, for example – so the local wildlife can’t get into it or so it doesn’t get blown open during a storm.

When you’re hiking, whether it’s a day hike or an overnight trek, if you brought it in, you have to bring it out. And if you see some litter that someone else dropped, make a point of picking it up and carrying it out with you.

The outdoors belongs to everyone – it’s ours to protect and to conserve, not to use as our own private trash can.

For further reading:

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Categories: Ecology, Geocaching, Health, Other, Wildlife | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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