A Runner’s Rant on Rubbish
BY IAN MacNAIRN
I’ve developed a keen sense for rubbish. I’ve honed my talent as a master of garbage, the Lord of Litter. Maybe it’s a product of my upbringing or from picking up after kids of my own, but I cannot pass by trash. I’ve tried.
To be sure, races are no time to stop and smell the flowers, let alone be filling my pockets with debris. However, every run I return with strange junk.
It boggles my mind. How are these routes lined with as much debris as I find? It is, unarguably, a treasure to have trails near home in the mountains and at home in the city. It is, then, an even greater gift to have the ability to trace these routes of the earth. Do other trail users not feel similarly? They must!
Sadly, regardless of sentiment, I find the proof is in the pudding (that is, if the trail is quite muddy).
Sure, some will express that much of the trash is left unknowingly, accidentally. Sure, I agree.
That said, ignorance should be no solace. As runners, cyclists, climbers and hikers, we are responsible for our actions and in pursuing adventure in the world around us, are thereby tasked with being stewards of our land.
Much of the debris I’ve gathered is rather mundane, such as empty plastic bags. Other items are evidently misplaced gear such as the lost bear-bell. While still not acceptable, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tossed the bell after realizing how annoying it really was.
Some of the litter is bizarre, like a baggie of crushed crystals. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty confident that someone discarded an old urinal cake on the single-track.
Some trash doesn’t make a lot of sense. A tag from a recently purchased camp chair would make sense to me in a campground. But 10 kilometres into the backcountry with no campsite in walking distance? A sizing tag from a pair of jeans in the front-range forest? A Calgary Transit ticket near Banff?
Lots of trash is gross, such as a trail of used bandages I picked-up descending Whistlers in Jasper or ribbons of used toilet tissue.
One time, I came across a plastic bag with dog poop. I get it; dogs poop outside. Other animals in the woods do, too. If you take your dog off-trail, 12 kilometres from the nearest trailhead, why on earth would you bother to bag your dog’s droppings? I wouldn’t hike my dog’s poop out and neither did this trail-er. My suggestion: let it decompose in the forest! No need to trap it for millennia in plastic amid the forest critters.
To me, the greatest affront of all is the trash left from trail-side snackers. Rather than pocketing the gel tab or bar wrapper, it is left to the ground. I’ve found juice boxes, beer cans, plastic packaging and utensils, coffee cups and lids and — worst of all — energy-food shrapnel from trail runners and cyclists.
These are folks who tend to be health-focused, often otherwise quite intelligent and obviously physically capable. By far, the majority of trash I stash comes from people who consume many gels, chews or bars on every outing. The fluorescent and sticky packages are obvious eyesores as well as threats to curious critters.
Mea Culpa; I have dropped a packet tab or two in my running. I am part of the culture and participate in all ways, including those that are consumptive and potentially detrimental. However, this is no excuse.
This is my call to everyone who uses trails:
• Be aware of the consequences of consuming while out on the land.
• Pitch in, take responsibility and help make the trails we share cleaner than when we got here.
Read the rest over at Impact Magazine