It’s no secret that Americans generate a lot of trash. Millions of tons of it every year. Not all of it ends up in garbage cans, either. Our streets are littered with cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and other trash. Sadly, our parks and other recreational areas are also cluttered with this stuff.
As a conscientious 4-wheeler, you adhere to the Tread Lightly! philosophy. One of its core principles implores you to leave an area in as good or better condition as you found it. You know you’ll be taking supplies with you, so what can you do about your garbage and trash?
This whole process starts even before you leave home. The best way to minimize the amount of trash you generate is to eliminate as much packaging as possible. Take cereal, for example. You don’t need that big box with you. Pack just the bag of cereal inside. A rubber band will keep the bag closed, and you can use the rubber band for other things. Ditto for the plastic bag. If you eat up all your cereal, fold up the bag for future use.
Some products, such as glue and batteries, often come with extra packaging. The individual unit(s) are blister-packed onto a larger package. Take out the one or two items you need for your trip, and leave the rest, including all the packaging, behind.
Beverages present other opportunities for creative packing. If you’re a wine drinker, transfer the wine to a soft plastic container or the Platypus Platy Preserve Wine Preserver Bladder. The wine tastes just as good, and you’re not stuck with an empty bottle. Plus, as noted above, you can use the bladder to hold other stuff if you manage to polish off your wine.
Glass bottles present a real challenge. They break easily, and take up lots of space. In fact, some public lands prohibit glass containers. When possible, consider buying beverages that come in aluminum cans. Once emptied, you can crush them into mini-pancakes for easy storage.
Steel (“tin”) cans also are a bit of a hassle. They don’t crush down well, so unless you can find a new use for empty cans, you’re stuck with bulky trash.
Many folks like to cook while off road. You can save on waste and packaging there, too. Chop or cut up your onions, peppers, carrots, and whatnot at home, taking only the amounts you need for your weekend meal(s). You save space and have less garbage left over.
Food waste presents a special problem for the outdoors. It takes up space, and attracts unwanted critters to the campsites. You’ve heard of the grizzly bears in Yellowstone digging through Dumpsters and climbing into people’s cars. Out here in the southwest, we have a real problem with ravens. Their populations are soaring (700 percent in the past 25 years) because too many people are leaving food waste at their campsites. It doesn’t take much. A few crumbs or morsels at each site add up to a lot of food.
What’s the big deal with ravens? Other than a nuisance, ravens are a major threat to the tortoises. Until it is about five or six years old, a tortoise’s shell isn’t hard enough to protect the animal. A raven can easily puncture the shell and munch away.
Consider reusing your drinking water, when possible. The water used to wash potatoes and other vegetables, for example, can be used to clean your dishes. Afterward, that water contains chunks of food which, as noted above, attracts ravens and other critters. Strain the water through a commercial-size coffee filter or similar product to remove the food particles. Pour that water on your campfire ashes to make sure they’re out.
What about burning trash? That’s a bad idea, too. For starters, it is tough on the environment. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality addressed this issue in its brochure titled, “Don’t Burn Trash at Your Campsite”:
“Burning trash, even paper, can release acidic gases, heavy metals, particulates, and toxic chemicals such as dioxin into the environment.”
Further, trash burning is a significant cause of wild fires, and the ash can contaminate soil and groundwater. If you must burn anything, use a fire pan so you can collect the ashes and throw them away when you get home. Many areas now require the use of a fire pan even for campfires.
There is a new product on the market that makes it even easier to haul your trash out. The Trasharoo carries up to 50 pounds of trash on your spare tire. A 30 gallon trash bag will fit inside and the sturdy Trasharoo is lashed to the tire so it does not flop around like a burlap bag. www.trasharoo.com
Finally, make a point to pick up trash you see along the way. Unlike hikers and backpackers, you have lots of extra room for trash. And as an off-road driver, you are held accountable for the garbage out there. It may not be fair, but that’s reality. Plus, we want to show everyone else that we are good stewards of the land. Leave your area in better condition than when you arrived. You’ll feel better, and our hobby will be better for it.