Erin Miller, Senior Writer, Canada
“I hate people so much,” I sighed as we pulled into a small informal campsite next to the crystal clear Coldwater river.
There was garbage everywhere. An old camp chair sat upside down on the bank of the river, empty liquor bottles and beer cans were strewn throughout the bushes, a gallon of used motor oil sat under a tree.
It’s not really that I hate people. I hate how nearsighted people can be. How detached they’ve become from the very thing that gives us life, sustains us. How blind people are. How little they care.
Carl has a saying, “If you see something that bothers you, fix it.” I like this. It makes me realize I have the power to be the change I wish to see in the world. It makes me realize I don’t have to look at piles of garbage, that that doesn’t need to be my reality.
Before & After at the Falls Lake Trailhead.
Photograph by Erin Miller
My mother raised me to always leave things as good or better than I found them. And so, we cleaned it up. And we cleaned up the trailhead at Falls Lake, where someone decided to empty the trash out of their car and leave it in a pile on the roadside. And we packed twenty pounds of bent tent poles someone tossed in the forest behind the lake out too. We’ve always cleaned it up, and we always will.
In total, we packed seventy-five pounds of garbage and recycling out of nature that weekend. And we will continue to pack out more the next weekend we are out, and the weekend after that. We will continue to pack other people’s garbage out of the forest until there is no more garbage left.
“We will continue to pack other people’s garbage out of the forest until there is no more garbage left.”
Keeping our wilderness clean isn’t just about aesthetics. Leaving food trash in nature, where it can be curiously explored and eaten by wildlife, habituate animals to human food and erodes their natural fear of people. The plastic waste that is inevitably eaten with the food waste builds up in an animal’s system, slowly starving it. A fed animal is a dead animal. Plastic bags, six-pack holders, and fishing line ensnare and entrap animals, making movement difficult to impossible. Toxic waste poisons both the soil and water. Plastic and glass bottles have been known to act as magnifying glasses, concentrating the sun and starting wildfires. Plastic builds up, choking streams and starving the ground of sunlight so nothing will grow. It’s all-around detrimental, and so ugly to look at.
I posted before and after photos on Instagram with the hashtag #trashtag. I was blown away by the response.
Back at home, we loaded up all the garbage and recycling we’d removed from nature over the weekend and drove it to the garbage dump, completely prepared to pay to dump it. We explained to the man at the entrance gate what it was and where we’d found it and were surprised when he let us drop the garbage for free. We were also informed that we could call the main office and have our license plate number added to a special list of people who collect and remove garbage from nature – that way, our weekend wilderness trash dumps would always be free, no questions asked.
We asked him how many people collected trash from nature. He responded, “Quite a few, actually.”
I left happy. Happy to know that other people love this planet as much as we do, and happy to know others wish to leave things better than they found them.
All this trash, came from this beautiful campsite.
Photograph by Erin Miller
how can you help?
Practice “Leave No Trace Principles.” Each of us plays a vital role in protecting nature. It’s important to be conscious of the effects our actions have on plants, animals, other people, and the ecosystem in general. By following the “7 Principles of Leave No Trace,” you can help minimize your impact. “Leave No Trace” Principles can be applied anywhere, at any time, by anyone.
Join (or start) a local “clean up” event. Conservancy groups, environmental groups, the National Parks Service, cities, towns, and sports groups host clean-ups on a regular basis. Check your local Facebook Group, Meetup.com, or just Google “clean-ups near me” to see what’s going on. Do something good and meet new people. Can’t find any local events? Host your own!
Hashtag #trashtag Challenge. Find an area that’s trashed. Take a “before” photo. Clean it up. Take an “after” photo, then post it on social media with the hashtag #trashtag. Tag a friend and encourage them to do the same!
Just pick it up. Going hiking or backpacking? Pack a spare trash bag and make it a goal to fill it up before you get back to your car. Going car camping? Bring a bigger bag! If you collect enough for a dump run, consider calling your local refuse center ahead of time to see if they allow free drop off!