I can be a bit of a stickler for Leave No Trace practices, especially on the more popular hiking trails where even a tiny infraction by a small portion of the population can turn into an unsightly mess. You know what I’m talking about– trash on the trail, unburied poop, food bits left around campsites. It all amounts to using the forests and mountains as a trash can. It’s not okay. There are three occasions when people tend to think there’s an exception to the rule, but they’re wrong.
1: Trash Fires
What got me thinking about this rant was this:
Okay, so this doesn’t look as bad in the picture as it did in person, but this really got my goat. This is the fire pit at the Peru Peak Shelter in Vermont. It’s full of melted gobs of foil, half-charred food bits, and plastic residue. I’ve seen too many hikers on the Appalachian Trail lighting big old fires to burn their trash, tossing Mountain House packaging, hot cocoa packets, aluminum cans, leftover food, and plastic soda bottles into the pit and assuming that was the end of that. WRONG.
If you must ask why it’s not okay to burn your trash at a campsite on the Appalachian Trail, here’s your answer: That shit doesn’t burn!
“But if you get the fire hot enough…”
No. Cans and aluminum foil won’t burn in a campfire. And I know this because of every fire ring I’ve seen with charred trash inside. By putting trash in a fire, you just turn a fire ring into a dump. Nobody wants a dump at their campsite. So don’t do it. Pack out your trash with you. If your trash is too heavy to take out with you, it’s your own fault. You brought it into the wilderness, you can bring it out.
2: The White Flowers
|Poo Paper in the alpine zone near Mount Adams, NH.|
The most common piece of trash I find on hiking trails anywhere is the little white blossom– toilet paper and tissues. I’m not sure if they just fell out of someone’s pocket while hiking, or if they just tossed them. Some of them are undoubtedly poop-wipes that were never buried. You don’t want poopy toilet paper on the trail, do you?
The toilet paper issue is a problem in itself, but all those tissues and TP that wind up sitting on the side of the trail because someone carelessly let their snot-rag fall out of their pocket are just as bad as far as I’m concerned. Blowing your nose on tissues is wasteful and, if the tissue winds up on the side of the trail, just as bad a piece of litter as toilet paper.
Rather than take the chance for your snotty tissue to fall out of your pocket and wind up trash on the trail, just use a hanky or your sleeve. Or learn to blow a snot rocket. At least if you drop a bandanna, someone else can keep it and wash it for reuse. You don’t ever have to worry about dropping your sleeve. Snot rockets are fun. Stop wasting tissues and turning them into trail litter!
3: Orange Peels Don’t Rot on Mountain Tops!
Almost every hike I go on, I’ll find at least one orange peel or apple core in some place where oranges and apples don’t grow. This tends to be an innocent mistake. “It’ll decompose,” people think as they toss their food waste into the bushes. Just like they think aluminum will burn. Yes, food waste will sometimes decompose, but how long does it take? Think about this.
Before throwing your apple core, orange rind, banana peel, or peach pit into the woods, ask yourself how long it will take before it decomposes to dirt. If the answer is greater than “ten minutes” you probably shouldn’t throw it. Why? If the food trash is out there for more than ten minutes, it will be an eyesore for other hikers (do you want to hike through a compost pile?), a non-native piece of compost in the environment (because chances are you didn’t grow that banana or orange in New Hampshire), and an attractant for animals. Basically, the food waste won’t decompose. Other hikers will pick it up, or animals will eat it. Either way it’s a burden on your fellow hikers (animals that get used to eating human food associate humans with food. That’s bad).
The moral of this story? If it came in with you, it goes out with you! Who’s with me?