Ours is an age defined by refuse – by refusing, that is, to deal with our refuse.
Trash accumulates in all areas of the planet, including – and especially – America’s treasured national parks. A recent, personal, non-scientific survey of Yosemite’s iconic attractions reveals a pernicious aggressor. Few outdoor enthusiasts would encourage littering, yet many cause this offense, often doing so unwittingly. Resolving the issue necessitates a much higher degree of coordination between park officials and attendees.
During a brief visit to three areas near Yosemite National Park’s main valley (viz. Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, and the trail up and back to Half Dome) the most commonly collected item of trash came from plastic wrappers. Notably absent was the entire wrapper, instead, the triangular sliver torn from the top to open-up the pre-packaged item (e.g. Clif Bar, Powerbar, Kind…) flickered alongside the pathways.
Perhaps a tired hiker had struggled to open the tough plastic, hastily disregarding the opponent to their hungry teeth, casually littering. More likely, the centimeter-wide remnants were the forgotten castoffs of unwitting fingers, scraping through packaging without understanding their effortless trashiness. Along the 14 mile trail from the floor of Yosemite Valley to the top of Half Dome and return, I found 39 such triangles, effervescent in a wake of dust and granite.
These corners, though frustratingly unnatural in themselves, represent the present conundrum of outdoor recreation. Most broadly, the outdoors are stunningly un-diverse; therefore, efforts to attract visitors focus on the spectacle of nature, not the rules that ensure its longevity. More specifically, current hikers create more trash than most parks would have anticipated even twenty years ago. The ever-present ‘granola bars’ evince this phenomenon: insufficient trash receptacles in popular areas and poor education lead to waste that degrades both the environment and the experience of that selfsame environment.
Two simple, finite solutions exist to resolve the Corner Crisis: don’t use plastic-packaged energy or granola bars, or don’t tear the corner entirely off. Environmental conflicts need not be intractably complex!
Consumer education, however, is paramount. Park officials in Yosemite could issue trash bags to all Half Dome hikers: the trip already requires a permit, perhaps it needs to come with, or require, a bag. (South of Yosemite, the Inyo National Forest requires all Mt. Whitney summiteers to carry out all human waste – surely that is more onerous!) More signage may ameliorate the problem, as would more park staff. Finally, and most helpfully, manufacturers could simply print warnings on their packaging, advising hikers that the slippage into micropollution begins at the corner of truth and trash.
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