Trash on the Trail

When most people go hiking and camping, they undoubtedly amass a bit of trash in the form of food wrappers and other such objects. This is perfectly normal, though; after all, we all need to eat and very few people actually go on a completely self-sustained camping trip where they catch their own food or build their own shelter. However, what isn’t okay is when trash is left behind at a campsite or thrown onto the ground. It really bugs me when I’m hiking and I come across garbage that someone has carelessly tossed aside, and today I’ll break down why this is not only a bad habit caused by laziness, but also a potentially environmentally damaging practice.

Most campsites or campgrounds have a trash can nearby where you can properly dispose of garbage, but backcountry sites or even trail loops at a local park don’t always have cans. Unfortunately, this is where some people go wrong by thinking they can simply crumble up a granola bar wrapper and throw it in the bushes. Even something as small and seemingly harmless as a granola bar wrapper can cause harm to the environment. The vast majority of food wrappers aren’t biodegradable, which means all the chemicals and materials used to make them will break down very slowly and eventually seep into the ground, where they’ll being to effect the surrounding earth.

The chemicals and coloring used in many products can find their way to a natural water supply, which can cause problems for fish and other organisms that depend on the water for survival. Other items, such as pop bottle rings, glass bottles, and small plastics, can be either consumed by animals or entangle them, which can cause serious injury or even death. Also, glass can shatter and pose a threat to animals and humans alike.

Aside from causing damage to the environment, trash that still contains a bit of food or trash that is scented can actually attract animals that wouldn’t otherwise be near a given trail or campground, such as bears. The smell of food draws them near and can lead to direct human/bear contact, which usually doesn’t end well for the bear.

Honestly, the thing I can’t stand about trash is that it just ruins the trail for everyone. It lessens the appeal and natural beauty of the outdoors and, when left unchecked, can quickly cause a park or trail to lose its beauty forever. If you don’t have access to a trash can, please just pack out your trash in a garbage or Ziploc bag and dispose of it when you get home after your trip. It’s really not hard to take a few minutes to pack trash and doing so can go a long way towards ensuring and preserving our nation’s rugged beauty for generations.