A few weeks ago, while enjoying lunch outside in the finally changing PNW weather, a coworker joined me. She had the most adorable reusable napkin – white with small plants, leaves, and animals printed on it. I held up my reusable napkin – a boring, burnt orange from a pack of six – and complemented her on the conscientious and (in her case) stylish decision to bring her own napkin.
She laughed and gave a sad groan. “I was in Yosemite maybe a decade ago, and they had these signs up about how many tons of garbage are carted out of the National Parks each year. The sign commented on how something as small as bringing your own napkin made an enormous difference. I was so taken aback. Now, I carry this thing around with me everywhere.”
I was appalled. According to the NPS, in 2015, park visitors and staff generated 100 million pounds of garbage* amongst the National Parks, and Yosemite, Grand Teton, and Denali National Park visitors account for 16.6 million pounds of that waste.
When I saw these numbers, my heart sank. While I have managed to reduce my waste to a bare minimum in our little studio apartment, there is one place where I often let convenience take the wheel: the great outdoors. Doing zero waste while out camping or backpacking seems impossibly time-consuming, heavy, and stressful. It’s one thing to make everything from scratch at home; but trying to make meals while out camping? That’s just a totally different beast.
I’ve been giving myself a pass when I go out climbing, or hiking, or even backpacking. I say to myself, “Well, you’re so good at home… it’s okay if you buy pre-made meals / Snickers / potato chips. It’s just a little bit of trash. And it will save so much time!”
But seeing these statistics has made me rethink. As someone who’s deeply passionate about the outdoors, I hate the idea of so much garbage making its way to landfills for the sake of convenience. Now that it’s warm, I’m spending nearly every weekend outside – often times on spontaneous, outdoor adventures – which means more and more excuses to not practice my zero waste-to-landfill lifestyle.
So, I’m assigning myself a challenge. I’m calling it, “One Month of Waste-Free Weekends.”
Now, because I love rules and guidelines…
- “Weekend” is hereby defined as Friday night, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday.
- “Waste-free” is hereby defined as zero waste to landfill; some recyclables are permitted.
- Permitted recyclables include aluminum cans and glass. No plastic recyclables.**
- NO purchasing of food wrapped or packaged in tin foil, plastic, or other landfill materials.
Compost or recycle all food-related trash over the course of four weekends. Produce Zero Waste-to-Landfill.
And that’s it! Stay tuned to see how next weekend goes!
*EDIT: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited the amount of trash produced by the National Parks. It has been corrected.
Do you think you can do a month of waste free weekends? Want to join me? Tag #wastefreeweekend or #mountainattitude on Instagram!