5 Tips for Reducing Your Waste Impact on National Parks

Posted by David Moore on

Many Americans may be shocked to learn that local, state and national parks are facing serious issues with waste collection and removal. With the recent government shutdown, the issue has been brought to the forefront with more people asking how they can help resolve this issue. If you are interested in helping to keep the parks clean, here are a few suggestions you might want to consider.

Tip #1: Know What the Problem Looks Like

Sometimes, simply better educating yourself about the issue is the key to helping you take steps to correct it. According to a recent survey conducted on just the parks of Denali, Grand Teton, and Yosemite, approximately 100 million pounds of trash were thrown away by visitors in just those three parks in 2015. Surprisingly, some of these items were things that visitors simply left behind at campgrounds, such as sleeping bags, tents and even mattresses. Overall, the breakdown of the items tossed away at these three parks were as follows:

  • 40.7 percent organic waste (mostly food items)
  • 21.6 percent paper and cardboard
  • 17 percent plastic
  • 6.6 percent glass
  • 14 percent other recyclable or reusable items, such as camping gear, food packaging and propane cylinders.

Tip #2: Go Digital

While the paper maps handed out by the rangers at the entrance gate have long been the traditional method for navigating through the parks, consider using online maps and guides instead. While cell service can be a problem at many national parks, several do offer apps that provide helpful information that can enhance your experience while also helping to keep waste to a minimum.

Tip #3: Use Reusable Cups and Bottles

More than 58 billion paper cups are sent to U.S. landfills every year while approximately 2.5 million plastic bottles are tossed in the trash every day. You can help to reduce this number by using reusable cups and coffee mugs both in and outside of the national parks. Most national parks have several refilling stations located throughout the park where you can easily refill your water bottle rather than going through numerous plastic bottles as you explore the outdoors. Currently, 35 percent of park visitors drink from disposable water bottles despite the fact that 79 percent said they would support removing single-use water bottles in national parks if it would significantly help to reduce waste.

Tip #4: Bring Your Own Bag

You will certainly want to purchase some souvenirs while enjoying the parks. Instead of accepting a plastic bag from the park stores and visitor centers, bring your own bag or tote in which you can carry your new treasures.

Tip #5: Take What You Bring

Perhaps the biggest culprit in terms of creating excess park waste is the tendency to leave behind the things that we bring in to the parks. Taking all of your waste with you will help to cut back on litter in the parks, but you can also take advantage of their animal-resistant waste bins and recycling receptacles. If, however, there are no available receptacles to meet your needs, take home your waste and dispose of it or recycle it somewhere outside of the park. Currently, only 40 percent of park visitors take their trash with them when they leave.

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