Armed with two very large rubbish bags and a “nifty nabber” claw, I set off from the checkpoint close behind the last team of the Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney 2015. I was a volunteer trail sweep. I did not expect to fill such large bags. Bushwalkers are healthy, community minded types who love the outdoors. Surely the Oxfam teams wouldn’t litter? Sadly, I was wrong.
I can report from ample evidence that Oxfam trail walkers love to eat bananas. Lollies of all forms are eaten on downhill stretches, but never while going uphill. No-one takes a bush comfort break within a couple of kilometres of a checkpoint.
Oxfam Trailwalker event rules forbid littering. Oxfam Trailwalker event organisers are to be commended for organising volunteers to sweep the trail, providing rubbish bags and equipment to do so safely. Sweeps are encouraged to clean up all litter, not just that related to the event.
What’s in the bag?
The variety of litter we found was diverse, ranging from food stuffs, toilet paper and tissues, packaging material and containers, to the truly disgusting and the completely confusing.
- To the consumers of energy gels and goos, and those who snack on Snickers: please put the wrappers in your pocket and pack it out, tiny bits of foil do not degrade and are hard to pick up.
- To the mandarin eaters who discard their fresh peels at nicely spaced intervals: zap it in a zip lock bag and take it home, we don’t appreciate having to stop every two metres to pick up another peel fragment. Even though they biodegrade, discarded foods don’t belong in the bush.
- To those who left packaging behind: perhaps next time remove your spare batteries from their packaging at home, to both lighten your load and to spare us from bending to retrieve it.
- To those in urgent need of a wee: you can drip dry, but if you must, put that unsightly toilet paper in a zip lock bag, regardless of whether you relieve yourself mid path, at the edge of the path, or ten feet into the bushes.
- To the smokers: Thank you! Although butts are a common form of litter in the city, we found none while sweeping the trail. Of course, smoking is now banned in NSW national parks.
So just who were those trail litterers?
Studies show littering behaviour is complex. There is no defined type of litterer. Litterers look like you and me – they come in all shapes and forms, all ages, genders and social backgrounds. People alone and people in groups have all been observed to litter in various studies. We may not even be consciously aware of our littering behaviour. Sometimes we carefully “place” our litter – toilet paper wedged behind a rock is not litter right? Or we might let that inconsequential little Mentos wrapper “accidentally” fall – if I didn’t notice I’d dropped it, it isn’t littering right? Organic waste, like sandwich crusts and peels, are not litter right?
We need to be mindful of our behaviour out in the bush, particularly as the distance adds up and we start to tire on the trail. A good way to increase your own awareness of the subtleties and impact of littering is to spend some time cleaning up.
So next time you take a walk, or train for an event like Oxfam Trailwalker, please pack a rubbish bag, some gloves and do your bit to take home your own rubbish, plus some.