You're walking through camp, down to the edge of a beautiful alpine lake. You're out of water and about to unpack your filter and bottles to refill. You kneel down, look into the water and .....you see the remnants of someone else's dinner. (yuk) . Grey water, food scraps, whatever you want to call it. There is a better way to manage our waste in the backcountry.
The pack it in, pack it out rule applies for all non organic waste 100%. There are also some more sensitive locations where the expectation is even organic wastes (yeah you guessed it!) are packed out. Ask a US park ranger about their least favourite job and it might be changing out the honey bucket toilets in the parks they manage. All human traffic has some impact on the environments we visit. It's up to us to minimize our impacts and insure those places that revive, invigorate and renew us will continue to do so for generations after us.
We asked, you answered! The common unanimous answer to what gets your goat in the backcountry is
... trash. Seeing garbage left behind is easily the top item on most people’s backcountry faux-pas list.
So let’s break that one down. Talk some trash! Let’s face it, the average human being generates a lot of waste in today’s society. Waste leaves an impact. Some backcountry enthusiasts will preach a “leave no trace” ethic. Which is absolutely a noble goal to shoot for. That being said, no trace isn’t exactly accurate. No matter how fastidious you are, unless you pack your poop out with you, you’ll be leaving some trace. I prefer to think in terms of minimizing impact on an area. I also like to take it a step further and consider what is required to be a good steward of the environments I visit.
So here are some tips for ethical trash management in the Backcountry.
Toilet Paper/Kleenex and when nature calls - if out-houses exist where you are camping, this one is a no-brainer. In all other instances, TP/Kx should always be packed out, burned or if biodegradable and sparingly used; buried in a cat hole dug approx 6 inches deep, at least 200ft from any water source.
Food packaging containers - always pack out what you pack in.
Organic food waste/grey water. Tip* plan meals in a way that will minimize organic waste in the backcountry. Don’t cook more than you can eat in one sitting. Scrape up and eat as much as possible from your cookware and discard grey water at least 200ft away from camp and any water sources by either burying it or disbursing it (think toss the water) across a larger surface area.
Bear Caches are not garbage disposals. Do not leave litter behind for the next party to pack out.
Glass containers have no place in the backcountry IMHO. Glass is heavy and has a tendency to shatter when dropped. Just leave them behind.
Tarp tie-outs and rope in trees. Take them down and take them with you. Tip - use a hitch knot like a highwayman hitch or a mooring hitch. https://www.netknots.com/rope_knots/hitches
When use of fires is permitted - use existing fire rings. Do not construct fire rings near tree roots or trees themselves. Keep flames under 18 inches. Always insure your campfire is attended or completely extinguished before moving on. IF you have chosen to burn any kind of refuse in your fire, insure that whatever has not burned is packed out. Foil packs do not completely burn. Cans will not completely burn. Fish them out of the ashes after your fire has gone cold.
Always pack your garbage and your food bags in existing caches or hung high enough to keep rodents and other animals out of them.
Fishing line/gear. It’s simple. Pack out what you pack in as much as is possible. (we all lose a fly or lure from time to time) Fishing line left behind is a death trap to birds. If you happen to catch dinner, dispose of fish entrails and any uneaten bits well away from camp and water sources.
The places we visit have been there long before we set foot in them, they will be there long after we’re gone. Our time spent enjoying them is short. Let’s do our part to preserve them for others to enjoy and help keep wild places wild.
Happy Trekking ~ Jenn @thebackcountrycollective