You would never roll down your car window and chuck out a plastic bag full of trash. But what about something like an apple core, peanut shells or a banana peel? These foodstuffs are biodegradable, of course. Would it really hurt the earth if you threw them out, well, into the earth?
As it turns out, you should avoid leaving even your biodegradable items behind to break down. Here’s why:
They Take a While to Actually Break Down
Hikers have long carried bananas with them as sustenance during a long trek. And, because their peels are all-natural, many feel it’s okay to leave them behind after snack time has ended. However, such a decision made over and over has had consequences along popular hiking trails. For instance, in Scotland, the Ben Nevis mountain has had more than 1,000 peels left behind by hikers on the ascent. Little did many of them know, it takes two years for banana peels to break down back into the Earth.
Indeed, many people justify ditching their biodegradable litter with the thought that such items will break down just as nature intended. As it turns out, this process takes longer than we imagine, meaning that such droppings end up being more of a burden than a benefit to the local terrain.
Animals Don’t Want Them — and You Could Hurt Them
Wild animals have long survived without our biodegradable litter. Think about it: there’s a reason why we don’t eat the peels or cores. Plus, the squirrels, deer and birds that you think might want your scraps are designed to eat other foods. They won’t clean up your biodegradable litter, even if it is technically edible. It doesn’t come naturally to them to do so.
Nevertheless, some animals will start to eat human scraps, especially at campgrounds where you leave tastier morsels behind. If animals forego their natural diets for human foods, they’re likely to miss out on the nutrients they need to stay healthy. On top of that, they’ll probably stop foraging for the edibles in their natural habitat when human foods are so readily available. It’s not good for animals to evolve — or, devolve — in this way.
So, if and when you do camp, be sure you dispose of all food waste responsibly. There are plenty of tips for doing so, including disposing of food in odor-proof bags. No matter what, avoid leaving even biodegradable items in the open to keep ecosystems in check.
Finally, we’ve already mentioned that you might chuck biodegradable litter out of the window of your car. When you do so, where does it land? If you’re leaving edibles on the side of the road, you’re putting animals in great danger if they do go and retrieve it.
Finally, you shouldn’t toss biodegradable litter because, at the end of the day, it’s still litter. Every single state in the country has some sort of law against the practice. And, when a cop’s writing a ticket, they’re not going to let you go if you mention you littered something biodegradable. Litter is litter, whether it’s a soda can or sunflower seed shell. The fines that come with littering can be hefty, too — it’s more cost-effective to just bring home your biodegradable litter.
You can still do good with these items, even without leaving them behind in nature. Transform your foodstuffs into compost so that they stay out of the landfill and help your garden to grow. Cook responsibly so that you use more and waste less. Tell others what you have learned about littering, too. These are small steps, but every little bit helps.
After all, that’s what you were trying to do in the first place when you left your food scraps behind. Now you know they won’t help the natural landscape, a bit of information that allows you to be more responsible in your day to day life. That’s one way we can work together to save the planet.