Kicking the Can
beer cans

Left on the forest floor for the next 400 years

or until somebody else picks them up

The Boy Scouts has an interesting page on disposing of waste. Can you believe? A tin can lasts 80 to 100 years out there in the outdoors? What’s really mind-blowing is that an aluminum can lasts 200-400 years! That’s hearty trash.

A banana peel lasts 3-5 weeks, I mean… that’s still a bit long for something organic. The wool cap you accidentally dropped? = one year. Glass bottle? = thousands to millions of years. Holy archaeological!!

One of the hallmarks of good writing is that it does not preach but if it must, it’s best to avoid preaching to the converted. We will just ignore that excellent advice and forge right ahead.

This is about junk, trash, garbage, dreck, litter, yuk, but not in the global sense of world pollution and filling all the landfills in the nation. Rather, just a word about our own outdoor backyard. To say anything at all on the subject places us in danger of tying our rugged outdoorsman image to Susie Spotless, a pre-adolescent nag on the way to growing up to be Goody Two-Shoes if ever there was one. So be it.

Telling the readers of this to be responsible with their trash in the outdoors would be insulting in the first place and a waste of time in the second. If I’ve learned anything, it is that people who read the sort of material we publish are already quite serious about preserving what they have. The folks causing most of the problems just don’t care; they’re all about convenience. It’s up to you people out there to make solutions happen.

Litter is ugly and dirty and it offends the senses. But, it’s worse than that. It cost money to clean it up, money that ought to be used for other things. Some types of trash is even dangerous to the fish and wildlife we value and recreational users are directly responsible – you’ve seen the stories and photos about monofilament fishing line being the prime example of disastrous damage to fish and birds, etc.

Fishing line and other plastics surely cannot be a major factor in the diminishing of wildlife but any loss at all to so banal a cause is unacceptable.

Probably the biggest direct cost to us as hunters and fisherfolk comes in the form of lost access.

How many times can you remember hearing from a landholder that he used to allow people on or across their property but he just can’t do it anymore because he got tired of picking up the mess, or fixing cut fences or checking on status of gates?

The best little bass lake I’ve ever fished was closed off that way. At one time, the Pink House Hole on the Clearwater was closed to bank steelheaders. It is now an elaborate pay-to-use campground. Private property around where I live has been shut off to hunters. Further examples are redundant.

It may not be nice to say that fishermen are the worst, but observation says this is so. The hook packages, styrofoam bait cups, and refreshment containers and packaging tend to accumulate on stream and lake banks. Why the same stuff that is carried down to the shore is so heavy and hard to haul back when it’s empty remains a mystery.

So what do we do? Isn’t it odd that we see junk everywhere but never see the people leaving it? Obviously litterers are not proud of themselves, furtively leaving their leavings. Maybe they only come out at night.

A friend recently told the story of how he saw a truck ahead of him throw out trash and he ran them down with his truck and made them go back and get it, to the terror of his son in the car. Fortunately, this dude was big and hairy and scared the beejeesus out of the trashers just by his looks, but you don’t want this. It could end badly. But, people are getting fed up.

My wife (lady dare-devil thing again) when out and about and sees someone throw something down, pointedly picks it up in front of them, hoping to at least embarrass them.

Litter laws have been slow to be effective in changing behavior, but gradually laws do educate. Some stiffening of laws and better enforcement might help. Pulling their hunting/fishing licenses for one to three years as is done on game violations might make an impression. Summary execution has been suggested in conversation with some of my compatriots, but it would be unsightly in itself.

The best thing we can do individually is cuss – and pick up the stuff ourselves. It’s easy to get the kids to do some of it; aluminum cans are like junebugs to ducks if we add a little to their allowances. The nasty stuff of no value to recyclers will always be up to the Dads or Moms. Groups do a genuine good thing when, like the ISSU cleanup held every year on the major steelhead rivers, they carry on an organized effort.

The junkies will never go away entirely, unfortunately, but we must keep nagging. So, please don’t kick the can down the road. Pick it up. Keep our outdoors tidy. It’s a Mother-Nature thing.

More Information:

Boy Scouts of America: Disposal of Waste...How Long Does It Last?

An updated version of article published May, 1988 Idaho Outdoor Digest.