Trash Talk: A Case for Picking Up Litter on the Trail

Trash Talk: A Case for Picking Up Litter on the Trail

We’ve all seen it: the neglected shrouds of snacks enjoyed long ago. The metallic, unnatural glimmer in a shallow stream, caught behind sticks, or caught in brush trailside.

How does it get there?

Luckily, our culture has shifted from throwing trash out the window without anyone blinking an eye, to accusations over innocently walking away from a forgotten pop can at the beach. It’s not cool to litter anymore, so why do we still find so much trash on the trail, the beach, on the sidewalks, everywhere? Sure, there are likely still people that might think it’s okay, but the reality is a lot of litter comes from people that mean well but they’ve just  been careless.

So, the first thing we should do is forgive the way the litter got there. Acknowledge that once in a while you probably mis-pack your trash and a piece falls out. What goes around comes around, so take it upon yourself to pick up the trash. You can’t help when a piece of trash falls out of your pocket without notice, but you can help if you see a piece of trash and still walk by. 

So, why might people walk by?

1. It’s gross.  

Sometimes wet with unknown substances accompanying.  Should you still pick it up?  

Solution: The best trash pickers keep a pair of spare gloves in their packs. 

2. You don’t have a way to carry it. 

Solution: Keep a spare shopping/bread/tortilla bag in your pack to store trash. Like gloves, this takes a few times to build in a little habit.

3. It takes too much time and you don’t want to interrupt your run or walk. 

It can take less than a second to pick up a wrapper or a plastic bottle. Yes, you might have to divert your path slightly, but you’ll get the reward of knowing you did something good.  

Solution: Take the moments anyway.

4. There’s so much trash, there’s no way you’ll be able to pick all of it. 

Solution: Give yourself a number goal. For example, decide to pick up at least five pieces of trash when you run by a certain area. You don’t have to pick up everything to the point that it interrupts you, but making a habit out of picking up trash will make a larger difference in the long run. 

5. It doesn’t really make a difference

Actually, it does. Let’s dive in a little deeper here: 

a. Saving just one squirrel is worth it.  
Taking away a piece of trash that could kill a squirrel is saving that squirrel and impacts all the plants and animals that interact with her. This is particularly important for larger animals, where there are fewer and one of them imparts a larger impact on the ecosystem.

b. Trash toxifies soil and watersheds.
Removing trash keeps it from toxifying the soil and watersheds that ecosystems depend on.

c. It’s about cultivating a conscious mindset. 
Creating a habit around picking up trash cultivates a more environmentally conscious mindset. As your identity realigns as someone that takes tangible action to protect the places you enjoy, you may find yourself more conscious about other decisions like your food choices, your transportation choices, and beyond.

d. Affirmative Action 
Others seeing you pick up trash helps normalize it, resulting in others picking up more trash and the cumulative trash in your local habitats is reduced. 

How can you reduce your own accidental littering frequency?

The reality is that you might be the one to litter once in a while without realizing it.  So, how can you reduce your risk? 

1. Store your trash in zipped pockets.

Trash can often slip out of pockets when you’re bending down to smell the flowers, so make sure to keep snack wrappers and caps in a pocket or bag with a zipper. 

2. Designate a zippered pocket on your backpack or running vest for trash.

This helps you build a habit around keeping track of your trash.

3. Be mindful of putting more trash in your trash stash.

Often, trash will spill out of the trash pocket when you’re going to put more in.  Take a moment and make sure all of it made its way back into the pocket.