It’s a pretty common experience. You venture out to some beautiful destination only to find waste strewn about. Beer cans, granola bar wrappers, the occasional inexplicable bit of garbage, like a traffic cone or fully intact television. Maybe you’re on the beach, and there’s plastic everywhere, and old fishing nets galore. I think we can agree that this cheapens the experience, whether by ruining your otherwise perfectly framed Instagram shot or by reminding you of the devastation that waste and especially plastic pollution have on the many ecosystems of our planet. It sucks, y’know?
I make a point of packing out the trash I find while hiking. Public lands are our shared responsibility. I enjoy using them, so it’s only right I help take care of them. It’s frustrating, and I have definitely been known to mutter some less than savory language about the anonymous perpetrators as I pick up after them. But it’s satisfying to leave a place better than you find it, and to know that those who follow won’t have to stomach the same eyesores.
On that note, I’m honored to say that I was chosen out of hundreds of applicants to join Granite Gear’s The Grounds Keepers team this summer. With support from Granite Gear and Altra Running, I’ll be hiking the Colorado Trail and packing out all the garbage I come across, all in attempt to #leaveitbetter. I’ll be weighing all the trash I pack out and keeping a tally of what I collect, and I’ll be all up in your Instagram feed with my weird finds.
Now, I am well aware that picking up “litter” is not a solution to our waste problem, and I will gladly talk your ear off about how recycling is not only a failed effort in the US, but one that is fundamentally flawed (did you know that only 9% of plastic ever produced in the US has been recycled?! And only 12% has been incinerated, which means 79% has been “thrown away”).
I am convinced of the need to transition from a linear economy, which depends upon planned obsolescence and the production of waste, to a circular economy, in which we collectively aim for a zero-waste society. Ecologically speaking, there’s no such thing as waste. Energy changes forms. Things decompose, energy is cycled through ecosystems, water moves around the planet and is continuously filtered and ‘recycled’ …and so on. That’s not the case for humanity. We’ve been bamboozled into thinking that consumers ought to be responsible for waste management, freeing the producers of plastics to generate as much crap as they want, which they all but force feed to us. But more on that later! (Fear not - my Grounds Keeper posts are going to be chock full of fun facts)
Here’s the skinny: while my efforts as a Grounds Keeper won’t do much to affect the amount of waste pollution we continue to create, I will however be contributing to the health of the ecosystems I’m traveling through, if only marginally. Plus, I’ve got a platform I can leverage. It’s my hope that those who see what I and the other Grounds Keepers are doing, whether in person out there on our trails or through social media, are inspired to follow suit. Picking up trash is trendy right now, or haven’t you heard of Plogging? If trash-free trails become the norm, it’s likely that they’ll stay that way.
What I’m most excited about, though, is the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about waste over the last few years. We need to be having more conversations about why we create waste, instead of simply how to manage it. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the wisdom that has been shared with me by all manner of folks engaged with the Zero Waste movement.
Oh, and, of course, I’m absolutely thrilled to get back on Trail, even though the CT is just 485 miles. I’m looking forward to being able to take my time, and I plan to revel in the warmth that was so glaringly absent the last time I hiked through Colorado. It’s been my experience that I settle into full-on hikertrash mode right around 500 miles into a hike, so I’m a little worried that it’ll be hard to go back to the “real world” when I reach Durango, but what can ya do?
Wait, isn’t this guy supposed to be making a film right now? Why is he hiking?
Good question! If all goes as planned, you’ll all be able to screen our film before I hit the Trail. The team and I are still plugging away, and we’re finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Making a documentary is no joke, y’all!