Leaving natural areas in pristine condition
Wilderness is harder and harder to find these days on this beautiful planet,
and we’re abusing our planet to the point of almost no return. Betty White
Rubbish dumped in the bush can have serious impacts on native wildlife. Animals scavenging for food may shred plastic wrapping, spreading it further through the bush. Worse still, animals may ingest some pieces while scavenging for food with potentially lethal consequences.
In coastal areas, rubbish can be swept out to sea affecting marine wildlife too. Animals can also get trapped in or around plastic rubbish (e.g. seabirds caught inside six-pack holders, or turtles with plastic bags on their bodies). Even if the tiniest corner of a muesli bar wrapper is dropped in the bush, it has the potential to have lethal consequences for an innocent animal somewhere in the ecosystem.
Here are some simple guidelines:
- Carry a sealable garbage bag to secure any rubbish: while it’s convenient to put a muesli bar wrapper in a pocket, it’s all too likely to fall out when walking on the track.
- Remove all rubbish including fruit peel and cores. While most common fruits/vegetables will biodegrade, they will not do it overnight. Leftover fruit and vegetable matter in the bush will become an eyesore to other bushwalkers and potentially harm wildlife. Feeding wild animals human food can make them reliant on human foods and less capable of hunting natural food. If animals start to associate humans with food sources, it can make them aggressive towards people. Some animals may become extremely sick if they eat human food since they are not used to it. In rare cases, fruit or vegetable waste may germinate resulting in an introduced weedy species in a natural area. Likewise, do not put food waste into water courses.
- Collect any extra rubbish on the track. Every bushwalker has the responsibility to keep the bush pristine. If it’s within the capacity of the group to carry out found rubbish, then do it. Otherwise, package it up securely (to stop animals getting into it, or wind/water distributing it further), record the coordinates of where it is, and alert a park ranger when the group gets back into phone reception.
- At the end of your bushwalk recycle as much as possible, including plastics.
- Do an idiot check after lunch and rest spots: check for loose food items and equipment.
- Dispose of human waste correctly. This ensures that it will decompose the quickest, prevents disease spread and/or contamination of water sources, and avoids some other poor bushwalker coming across it! Do not bury sanitary products or tampons: carry everything out.
Further reading Some references on removing rubbish from the bush
K.L. Bridle, J.B. Kirkpatrick. Impacts of nutrient additions and digging for human waste disposal in natural environments, Tasmania, Australia. Journal of Environmental Management, 69 (2003), pp. 299–306
K.L. Bridle, J.B. Kirkpatrick. An analysis of the breakdown of paper products (toilet paper, tissues and tampons) in natural environments, Tasmania, Australia. Journal of Environmental Management, 74 (2005), pp. 21–30
K. Bridle, J. Kirkpatrick, J. von Platen. Human Waste Contamination at Huts and Campsites in the Back Country of Tasmania. Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre, Griffith University, Gold Coast (2006)
Bridle, Kerry L., et al. “Inadequate Faeces Disposal in Back-county Areas, Tasmania: Environmental Impacts and Potential Solutions.” Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 14.1 (2007): 58-65.