Trash on the Trails

Trash belongs in garbage cans, dumpsters, and landfills. It does not belong in parking lots, along roadsides, in school yards, or on lawns. But for some reason, it’s especially offensive when found along a nature trail.

On the Trail

Generally, very little trash is found on hiking trails, demonstrating that hikers and nature enthusiasts are likely more considerate of the environment and the ecosystem. Perhaps that’s why the occasional piece of trash in nature is so noticeable. But it seems that with greater numbers of hikers on trails now, trash is increasing, according to a blog article on Sierra Trading Post’s website.

Previous Articles

In our previous blog articles, we’ve decried the Mylar balloons and plastic shopping bags that are either intentionally released or escape their tethers to float over and land in remote areas. Little, if any, attention is given to what happens to these items after they blow away from view. And perhaps the best use of those plastic shopping bags that waft into nature is to pick up trash dropped by careless hikers.

Intentional Trash

And what about trash that’s intentionally dropped, such as cigarette butts – the most common type of litter on Earth, according to the Public Library of Science (PLOS)? Not only do these butts pose a threat to a healthy ecosystem, but they can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to decompose. And they don’t blow in accidentally.

Other items that end up on trails without arriving with the wind include glass shards, clothing, plastic dental floss holders, water bottles, balloons tied to rocks to mark a spot, and even old mattresses. And don’t forget the toilet paper discarded by hikers after using the “facilitrees.”

Cigarette butt on trail
Balloons tied up to mark a spot

Removing Trash

While some hikers intentionally litter, others attempt to remove it as they wander the trails. Some even head out on the trails with the sole purpose of gathering trash to beautify nature. Saving animals from ingesting litter or otherwise becoming harmed by it is one of five reasons to pick up trash along trails mentioned in the Sun Kissed hiker blog.

One of the leaders in the movement to keep trash from nature trails is The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. This national organization protects the outdoors by “teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly…….by delivering cutting-edge education and research to millions of people across the country every year.” The vision of the organization is “to sustain healthy, vibrant natural lands for all people to enjoy, now and into the future.”

With such organizations and individuals working to clear trails and educate the public, perhaps one day all hikers will realize that trash has no place on trails.

“Enjoy your world,” writes the LNT organization. “Leave No Trace.”


2 thoughts on “Trash on the Trails”

  1. Trash on trails is one of our pet peeves. Makes no sense – people go to trails to enjoy the beauty of nature and immediately ruin it.We always hike with a trash picker-upper and a trash bag. Plastic shopping bags are not allowed in Hawaii and it’s amazing how much less trash is on the side of the road. Great article.

    • Mahalo for those comments! Getting rid of plastic bags….and water bottles would go tons of miles in helping to get/keep the parts of the planet we love cleaner and healthier! We haven’t used a disposable plastic water bottle for many years and we’re using great canvas bags from USFWS for most of our shopping. Let us know when you return to the Mainland. Aloha!

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