When I go hiking, I typically carry extra trash bags and gloves with me. The gloves have been of use to me once, when my friend attempted to save a fish that was trapped in a tiny pool of water due to low tide. I didn’t want her touching the fish with her bare hands, so I offered up my trusty gloves. Just so you know, her attempts to save the fish proved futile… as soon as she moved the fish to a bigger pool of water it sank, died, and was instantly torn apart by hermit crabs.
As for the trash bags on hand, I tend to not use them as often as I probably should. Sometimes I see trash on the trail and shake my head, but don’t get it because:
1. It’s too far off the trail and covered in bushes/plants
2. It looks like some kind of used tissue or item and my inner germaphobe takes over
3. I simply don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to get it
The latter I don’t feel very often, but it is a simple reality of being human—a lot of times we’ll scoff at trash on the trail and the people who left it behind, but don’t feel like it’s our responsibility to get it because we weren’t the ones who littered in the first place.
Another reality is this, as much as we want to believe that humans are naturally inclined to doing the wrong thing—a lot of the time we simply don’t know better. I’ve seen trash drop from people’s packs or hands while on the trail. It’s not an act of malice, but simply being unaware of their surroundings and forgetful. Usually when this happens, I let them know they’ve dropped something and they’re often surprised and regretful when they realize what they’ve done. Also, when trash is overfilled and wind is involved—trash ends up in places that it was never intended to be in the first place.
It has long been a habit of mine to jump to blame and accuse when it comes to seeing trash on the trails, watching people wander off the trails, and do other things that violate Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. But taking a step back and trying to look at it from when I first started hiking, a lot of things I know now I didn’t know then. Of course, littering is something that we should have long been taught not to do. But a lot of times kids are merely following what they see their parents or friends do, and the cycle continues until someone leads by example and there are new role models to follow.
I plan on being one of those role models. Every year during Earth Day weekend, I try to clean a trail, park, or any outdoor space that could use some love. This year, Black Girls Trekkin went on our first official trail and river cleanup as a group. But why limit giving the Earth some love to just this weekend? While it’s a great start, I definitely plan to do more cleanups during my hikes. I’ve even recently armed myself with a pretty cool trash grabber so I don’t have to worry myself with touching used stuff. I hope that through this action I can motivate others to take care of the outdoor spaces that are an important part of ecosystem.