Leave No Trace - Dispose of Waste Properly - Part I

We’ve all seen it, We’ve all been there. You are walking along a beautiful trail, standing at a pristine lakeshore, or enjoying an amazing vista. And there it is - trash. Ugh.

The rule of appropriate handling and responsible disposal of trash and other waste in wilderness environments should be an obvious one. Unfortunately though, in so many of our trails and campgrounds, this continues to be a struggle.

Multi-colored trash items on a forest floor surrounded by trees.

The third principle of Leave No Trace is Dispose of Waste Properly. This is an important principle of the Leave No Trace ethics and the key to maintaining the beauty of our wilderness environments. 

We are exploring this principle throughout the month of September. 

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Waste - What Is It?

The term ‘waste’ is defined as any object, of any kind, not naturally occurring in a wilderness environment. This includes all trash (ex. plastic bottles, cans, food wrappers, etc.), food waste, domestic animal solid waste, and human waste. We are exploring the first two topics - trash and food waste - in this post.

It is the responsibility of all users of wilderness environments to minimize our impacts to these environments. When it comes to trash and food waste the rule of thumb is this - pack it in, pack it out.

Areas of Special Focus - Yes, You Need to Take It With You

There are few areas of special focus, and frequent concern, to give special attention to:

  1. Food Waste - Uneaten Food Scraps:

    • Day Hikes: All uneaten food scraps, from meals and/or on-trail snacks, must be packed out. This includes any food scraps (ex. trail mix) dropped on the ground.

    • Multi-Day Hikes / Backpacks: All uneaten food scraps, from meals and/or on-trail snacks, must be packed out or consumed. It is good practice to carefully portion all meals and snacks on multi-day trips to minimize leftovers. Apply smart portion planning or bring a hungry friend.

  2. Food Waste - Fruit Peels / Cores / Seeds: Yes, you need to take these out with. Most fruits - including bananas, apples, and stone fruits - are not naturally occurring in the Pacific Northwest wilderness environments. These items can take a very long time to decompose, introduce foreign organic material, and are unsightly for other users. Pack them out.

  3. Micro Trash: These are the tiny little trash objects that tend to get away from us. These are the foil corners of the granola bar wrappers, the plastic bags we packed our food in, and/or little bits of packaging closure items. These small items can easily blow away in the wind or get dropped without noticing them. Monitor these items closely, keep a tight grip, and double-check your snacking area before leaving.

Thank you for doing your part to keep our shared wilderness spaces clean of waste. This helps protect the environment, keeps human food away from wildlife, and maintains beautiful and natural wilderness spaces for all.

Empty beer can trash left on a forest floor

Extra Credit: We also encourage you to bring an extra trash bag to clean-up trash items left by other you might find on the trail. It feels great to leave a place even better than you found it!


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