The saying goes, “Take only pictures and leave only footprints.” It’s been a motto for camping and outdoor activities for decades. Unfortunately, not everyone follows this rule. Plastic pollution has become a huge issue in many otherwise beautiful parts of the world, because of the sheer amount of time that is needed for objects to decompose.
One water bottle one time by one person every day, can mean hundreds by the end of the year. It’s a very visible issue, and some wildlife refuges have been permanently closed due to stuff being left behind.
When it comes down to an apple core, banana peel, or lettuce leaves many people are a bit more lax about whether they pick it up or not. The idea is that since it is organic, it will decompose. In the mean time, it will provide nutrition for wildlife–right?
The issue is that these things can actually take a lot of time to decompose, up to 2 months for an apple core and up to 2 years for a banana peel. In the mean time, everyone else who comes after you will have to look at your litter.
The presence of litter causes more littering
Even if organic litter does eventually decompose, the other issue that comes with it is it encourages others to litter. If someone sees a banana peel by the side of the trail, they’ll be more comfortable tossing their single use water bottle next to it–something that won’t eventually decompose.
In some places, like the Santa Paula Canyon in Ventura County, California, trash piled up on the sides of the trail along with urine, feces, and graffiti. The trail had to be closed due to the enormous amount of trash left behind.
Most of that trash probably didn’t come from people who know and respect the trail, but it might have started with someone seeing an apple core and deciding it was a place to litter.
What you can do
There’s more to stopping litter than simply not doing it yourself. In an interview with the Atlantic, Robert Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State University, had this to say about his work researching litter:
“The most dramatic results we’ve gotten are from situations that show people disapproving of littering,” Cialdini said. “One study took place in a library parking lot. People left the library, and there was a piece of paper on their windshield. The thing that most affected people was when they saw someone nearby reaching down and picking up a piece of litter with a disapproving look. When they got to their own cars, not one person littered. If they didn’t see anyone picking up litter, 33 percent littered. We went from a third of the subjects littering to zero, when they saw an example of someone like them who picked up litter and showed disapproval.”
One of the strongest and best things you can do to help stop littering is to pick it up, and to voice disapproval when you see it.
If you’re with someone who is tossing their organic litter into the bushes, speak up. Remind them that it’s still littering even if that litter is organic. It’s the right thing to do.