The Trash Problem
Each year, visitors like you and me help contribute to the 100 million pounds of trash generated in our National Parks. That’s a massively intangible number, so let’s break it down. The EPA estimates that each person generates 4.4 pounds of trash and 1.5 pounds of recyclables daily. It’s not hard to imagine how you get there either. Paper plates, chicken bones, uneaten food, gatorade bottles, etc. There is more to reducing your trash impact than bringing a reusable water bottle.
1) Break The Single-Serve Everything Habit Before You Go
There are portable, single-serve versions of everything these days. From corn, to pickles, to single-slices of ham, just about anything you might want to take with you on the trail could have its own convenient plastic packaging. More likely, you’re taking a Clif Bar, a single bag of trail mix, or even squeezable applesauce pouches. Why not? They’re incredibly convenient ways to pack food. And what’s better than popping open a bottle of Gatorade after you get back to the trailhead? Yep, been there. It’s easy. After we throw it away in the first garbage can we see, it’s out of sight and mind forever. It takes effort to change our mindset and come up with ways to have what we want and need in ways that generate a smaller impact.
2) Buy Bulk Snacks and Separate Into Reusable Containers
Roasted edamame, trail mix, nuts, beef jerky, whole grain crackers, and whatever snack foods you settle on most likely come in a bulk option. Chances are you probably have some form of reusable containers around the house, but if you don’t, there are cheap GladWare options or reusable sandwich bags that are less than $10 on Amazon. If even those are stretching the budget, you can always just reuse a standard ziplock bag for the duration of your trip. Not only will this reduce your trash impact, but by filling your own bags, you are able to dictate how much food you bring with you instead of some manufacturer that doesn’t get you’re climbing a mountain today.
3) Buy Powdered Sports Drinks and Dedicate a Reusable Bottle To It
Sometimes water just doesn’t cut it. After several sweaty hours on the trail and downing almost all of your 3L CamelBak, your body is craving the sodium and electrolytes that make Gatorade or Powerade (or even beer, see below) an ideal answer. Not only are you saving money by buying powders that make up to 6 gallons, but you’re removing the equivalent of 38 20oz-bottles! Just remember to use the same reusable bottle for the duration of your trip, as it can take forever to get rid of all the residual flavor—nobody likes water that sort of smells like Purple Gatorade.
4) Stop Using Disposable Plates, Cups, and Silverware
Reusable cutlery, plates, and cups, are both inexpensive and convenient. In fact, sometimes not having to look for a trash can while camping or hiking is more convenient. For around $10/person you can easily pick up sturdy sets of dining gear on Amazon or at Big 5. Not only will they not blow away in every single whisper of wind, they will have paid for themselves after just a couple camping trips.
5) Bring Booze In Anything But Single-Serve Glass Bottles
Part of the joy of camping is drinking in the great outdoors. There are few things in life better than an a cold beer around a campfire. In fact, according to a study at Grenada University, having a beer or two after a strenuous hike replaces electrolytes better than sports drinks. The problem with glass bottles, however, is two-fold: 1) It’s heavier than aluminum thus requires more energy to transport to/from the park and 2) Most rural parks are incapable of recycling glass nearby. Boxed wine and aluminum beer cans are both processed by park waste systems than glass, but if you really want to be winner, bring a full reusable growler.
6) Pack Out Your Trash & Recyclables
The best and most complete option is to pack out everything you bring in. Trash disposed in city centers has less of a carbon footprint making its way to a landfill. Cities are also better equipped to recycle more materials than National Parks. Simply by waiting until the next town on your road trip to discard trash and recyclables, you help make our National Parks a greener pace.
7) Don't Buy Bottled Water. Ever.
Don't. Just don't. It's expensive and bad for the environment in every conceivable way. It shouldn't even need to be said.