What if We All ‘Left No Trace?’

by on April 27, 2016 · 2 comments

in California, Culture, Environment

trash no trace foto

Photo Credit: Averi Melcher via The Pedal Project

by Averi Melcher/San Diego UrbDeZine / April 21, 2016 

As I’ve been camping and sharing my adventures, there’s one thing that keeps showing up over and over in my experiences: trash.

About 2 months ago, I was crawling through mud caves in Anza Borrego, when I looked down and found 2 Starburst wrappers illuminated by my headlight. A month ago, I was hiking a mountain in the Joshua Tree back-country and happened upon a deflated helium balloon. Then – later that night – I sat my tent down and fell asleep, just to wake up in the morning and find myself trying to maneuver out of my tent on shards of glass and plastic.

I thought to myself: why is this happening? Why am I finding trash in areas that are off the beaten path – in fact, they are so remote that the Joshua Tree trail log I found indicated I was the first human to step foot on that mountain in a month?

As hikers and backpackers, we all know (or at least have heard of) the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. These are guiding principles that all nature lovers and trail explorers are expected to adhere to – an ethical code that ensures everyone has the best time possible and no one gets hurt (including the environment). They include:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

Yet, with these in place, it still seems we are falling short – on the trails and right at home. Especially when it comes to point number 3: ‘dispose of waste properly.’It’s a simple idea that, if you bring it in, you should bring it out. Because even throwing garbage in a trash can will attract wild animals, putting them, you and your fellow campers in danger.

The fact that you have to lug out all of your trash after a long weekend hiking tends to change the way you pack. I personally put my food in collapsible containers that are lightweight and are reused for every trip, look for foods that are packaged in bulk (as opposed to individually), ditch boxes and tote individual granola bars and carry my water in a reusable bottle. I then carry one zip-lock bag that serves as my trash can for the hike.

It’s not a perfect process, but it’s just an example of how one might look to minimize the waste they will produce over a duration of several days.

Then, after thinking about all of this over the weekend, I got back into town and realized that the very same littering that got me so frustrated and upset while hiking, was everywhere around me: plastic water bottles in the ditch, cigarette butts on the sidewalk, soda cans on the beach…

And then I realized just how many items I use in a typical day that need to be thrown away.

It’s a lot – no wonder trash is popping in places like a back-country mountainside, or a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

So, here’s my thought:

What if – like when camping or hiking – we were expected to pack out what we pack in during our daily lives? What if we had to carry around a backpack and keep our trash in there until the end of the day? Or the end of the week?

Would all your trash fit? I know mine wouldn’t most days.

More importantly, would it change our behavior? Shifting our focus from consuming to minimizing, from thinking everything can be disposed of to finding items that can be reused again and again.

I know you’ve been told to quit using plastic bags a thousand times, so I won’t repeat what you’ve already heard. But I do hope you become more aware of the choices you make throughout the day. Ask yourself if what you are doing is sustainable – and for how long.

In some places, this is easier to do than others because of green initiatives from cities and states. Take for example, San Francisco, when they banned the sale of plastic water bottles on city-owned property. But even in the most lax of areas when it comes to green living, there is likely still something that can be done on an individual level.

I’d be curious to know what your opinions are – if you agree, or if you think everyone should just mind their own business and live the life they want. Share your thoughts and let me know what you are or aren’t doing in the way of sustainability.

As humans, we don’t particularly like the idea of ‘leaving no trace.’ At our core, we want to leave some sort of legacy behind for the generations to come. I know I certainly do.

I’m not sure what my legacy will be, but I do know I don’t want it to be a pile of trash.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John O. April 27, 2016 at 11:24 am

I’ve thought about this a lot. Sadly, if people do not care about the place where they live, it may be difficult to get them to care about the places they visit… even though they are supposed to be pristine parts of nature.
I guess the best we can do is to encourage being stewards of the environment, smart packing and disposal (as you mention), and education.
Yet, our culture is disposable/one-time/trash producing/consumer… so really, the problem goes a lot deeper.


tj April 28, 2016 at 8:10 am

good points.

personally – i am sick & tired of picking up cigarette butts (filters). if they rolled their own, or smoked unfiltered – I wouldn’t be nearly as concerned – as they are far more bio degradable.

the utter disregard for anything other than ones self negativity affects ‘civilized’ society in so many ways…

then again, i seriously doubt we’ll have to put up with litters-bugs in heaven….


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