How to Leave No Trace With Your Outdoor Gatherings
A New Era of Environmentalism
While the summer is always filled with fun and relaxation, this summer will feel like even more of a celebration than usual. As vaccinations increase and the coronavirus pandemic seems to be finally winding down, many of us can finally safely gather with our families and friends. In many ways, it’s the end of our current era and the beginning of a new one.
We’ve already talked about a post-COVID “new normal” in our blogs before, as we discussed how we should take advantage of the need to rebuild the economy in order to reform it for the better. As we think about this “new normal” in the context of summer celebrations, we can see opportunities for progress on another major problem: environmental damage.
Barbecues, picnics, and beach parties are some of our favorite summer traditions. Nothing says “summer” more than grilling out in the park with all your friends and family. At the same time, big outdoor parties that destroy the surroundings contradict the most important principles of being environmentally conscious. As stewards who take care of the natural world, one value that we should strive for is “leave no trace”: this means that we should leave nature unchanged so that our descendants can enjoy it too. Nevertheless, being environmentally conscious doesn’t mean we have to give up the outdoor gatherings we cherish so much. If we apply the tenets of “leave no trace” to our outdoor gatherings, we can set the tone for our new era of protecting the environment rather than exploiting it.
Putting “Leave No Trace” in Practice:
Pick Up After Yourself- This one is so obvious we hardly need to explain it. There should be nothing left that wasn’t there when you came, so make sure you thoroughly inspect the site you used (and maybe even pick up trash that was already there). We all know that you shouldn’t leave plastic litter that will not decompose, but even food waste that is biodegradable should be picked up given that it will spend a long time rotting and making the area unpleasant – basically, just clean up everything you brought.
Plan Ahead- It will make that eventual cleanup much easier if you plan with “leave no trace” in mind. For example, by choosing to serve finger foods, you will not need to bring so many plastic utensils and plates. You can also decide to bring your reusable cloth napkins rather than paper napkins or use a fabric tablecloth instead of a plastic one. You should also always bring trash bags in case there aren’t suitable waste disposal options nearby.
Don’t Hurt the Landscape- Make sure that you set up your gathering on a landscape that will not be damaged by your presence. If you were to choose a pristine area with delicate vegetation, you would likely end up trampling all of the previously untouched nature. The best sites will be on durable surfaces like gravel or dirt. In addition to being careful about the ground you choose, you should also avoid setting up near a water source that you could contaminate.
Respect Wildlife- This applies to some gatherings more than others, but almost everybody will encounter some kinds of animals when spending time outside. It’s always better to observe wildlife from a distance, so don’t go up too close to get a better look. Refrain from being too loud, as the commotion can disturb animals and drive them out of their natural habitats. Trash that you leave can make the animals sick or injure them, so that’s another reason to make sure you clean up well. It’s better for both you and the animals if you leave them be.
Use Fire Responsibly- Fire is key for any cookout or camping trip, but it can also easily go bad. Since there is always the danger of starting a wildfire, you should check the fire risk level for the current weather conditions and time of year. Even if the risk is not high, you should always take precautions to minimize damage. For example, if you’re building a campfire, try and keep it small within a confined ring. You also have to make sure you’ve extinguished it fully – whatever you think seems necessary to put it out, you should always just do a little bit more just in case.