Leave No Trace: The Forgotten Concept That’s Costing Us More Than You Might Think

Being Canadian, the phrase “Leave No Trace” should be known to most, and I’m sure we can all agree with the concept: dispose of your litter in the provided bins or take it home in order to protect our wildlife and landscape. And, if we’re being selfish, allow us to enjoy our own time in nature (without someone else’s garbage in the background ruining our selfie). Right now, you might be nodding your head and giving yourself a pat on the back, knowing that if you pack it in, you darn well pack it out. If this is you, then good on you! For those of you that don’t, well, you’re not only contributing to the destruction of our natural world, but you could actually be contributing to future fees and price increases that we will be seeing throughout our parks.

Let me expand: the more litter that if left behind by us leaves Parks Operators needing more staff to clean up our mess. How do you think they will support these additional staff wages? Since the fees that are charged at most national parks are reinvested to support things such as services, facilities and conservation efforts, a simple act of littering could well be enough cause for additional fees. The next fee adjustment will take place on January 1, 2022 and with statistics showing that litter from single-use foods and beverages has increased from 15.3% in 2019 to 26.6% in 2020, this could present the need for more janitors. So the next time you hear someone complaining about the new parking fee at the provincial park, it’s likely due to the hiring of new staff who, if we all Left No Trace, shouldn’t be needed in the first place.

You might be thinking that Canadians wouldn’t do this, we are proud of our parks and educated in the hazards of littering, the culprits are more than likely international tourists. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We are in quite a unique position to be able to make some simple observations here. With travel being very limited these past two years, lots of Canadians have had to travel domestically. So this increase in litter from 2019 to 2020, for the most part, is us locals. Now, it’s great that Canadians are exploring their own back yard since Canada has so much to offer, but why the increase in litter? Perhaps it’s down to newbie hikers or simply people wanting to enjoy a picnic outside in the fresh air, away from the many reminders of the pandemic that still face us. Some think that these new outdoor adventurers may be unfamiliar with the rules and regulations that are in place

However, this point is maybe a bit of a stretch because not littering really is a basic life rule. Let’s be honest, it shouldn’t be happening anywhere, least of all our beautiful Parks. Unfortunately, litter is on the rise everywhere, even cities and towns are having to increase their efforts to tackle an increase in litter by purchasing additional bins and increasing city litter crews, another use of tax payer money that shouldn’t be necessary.

Another potential factor could be that, understandably, some of us are a bit more apprehensive to touch surfaces nowadays, in particular our parks garbage cans. This avoidance of high touch points means that litter is being discarded around bins rather than in them. Now this isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, but after speaking to Parks employees in Banff National Park, it’s definitely something that has been noticed more by the Parks staff since Covid. All this garbage has to be cleaned up by somebody or it will work its way into our waterways, an astonishing 80% of plastics found in marine systems originate from rivers that transport plastics from land to ocean

There’s an easy solution if you’re worried about high contact points: hand sanitizer. Nowadays, you can find it everywhere, it’s even available in most of our Parks. But on the off-chance you can’t find a sanitizing station, why not take your own, extra credit if you get the glass bottle ones to save on plastic! 

Unfortunately, there are those people who have complete disregard for the “Leave No Trace” principles, and you can forget it if you think they are going to take their trash home with them. Dan, a Parks Employee in Banff National Park has seen people dump their trash from their car and drive off, “once they’ve gone there’s no accountability.” He adds, “we’ve had to employee more staff this year just to tackle the increasing rise in litter in the parking lots alone”. Seriously, this is nuts!

So it seems that this increase in litter could be another effect of the pandemic. With restrictions on reusable items, single use has been on the rise; think takeout coffee cups and plastic shopping bags. But we can’t blame Covid for the fact we are not disposing of this surplus litter in the correct ways. What’s frustrating is that these potential set backs are actually really easy to overcome, and so the only logical conclusion is that people are littering out of sheer laziness, and with a complete disregard for others, wildlife, and the environment. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that if everyone just left their trash lying around, these beautiful places soon won’t be so beautiful. Trails will be covered in litter and lakes will no longer be gazed upon with awe; already, there are more than six million bits of plastic per km2 in our great lakes, that’s enough to rival the pacific garbage patch! Don’t be the one contributing to this growing problem. If we all did our bit and (as infuriating as it might seem) picked up the litter left by inconsiderate people, we could start to slow these quickly growing numbers. If we don’t, our most beautiful spots will disappear and, as the human race so elegantly does, we will move on only to destroy the next one. And so the cycle continues. It’s a terrifying thought just how quickly this problem is escalating, but there really is a simple solution.

Just stop littering.

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