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  • Writer's pictureKern River's Edge Team

Micro-Trash! Is it really trash?

It’s so small, does micro-trash really count as trash? It does! And it is everyone’s responsibility. For the most part, a large portion of Kern River’s Edge camping guests get this and accept their responsibility, however in the last couple of years, we’ve seen a shift in attitude about cleaning up after oneself.

Americans are loving our beautiful outdoor parks, forests, rivers, and lakes literally to death! Countless news reports show the havoc wreaked on popular vacation destinations after a long weekend and we’re talking regular-sized pieces of trash, not micro-trash. It’s hard to talk about taking responsibility for our part in damaging our outdoor spaces, but we must, to effect a change.

As owners of a Kern River campground that is bordered by Sequoia National Forest , we see this ‘not my problem’ mentality daily and we will not give up on our fellow humans! More attention needs to be focused on caring for our public lands. And, all users of public lands need to know the harm caused to wildlife, animals, and beautiful outdoor spaces when users leave trash behind.

We want each of our guests to feel confident that they are guaranteed a beautiful riverside site at our Kern River campground! We all need to work to maintain our pristine river corridor to ensure beautiful spaces to relax in. This means being responsible for cleaning up your own trash.

What Is Micro-Trash?

Micro-trash is small bits of waste or trash that is disposed of into our natural environment, which is dangerous to local wildlife when digested, and can lead to health issues for these animals. Yes, animals eat your trash!

Most people do not deliberately set out to litter or drop their trash while exploring nature. What happens is small bits of trash may blow away as you tear off the wrapper of your power bar, or you simply lose track of or shrug off as insignificant. Micro-trash tends to come from disposable materials that either house or protect consumables. They are frequently so small that they get left behind, either intentionally or unintentionally. But even tiny bits of trash can collectively add up to a big problem for our ecosystems and wildlife. You would not wish to camp in our Campground if all the micro-trash that is left behind did not get picked up and disposed of properly!

What Harm does Micro-Trash Cause

1. It’s Dangerous for Wildlife to Ingest

Micro-trash is small enough to overlook but for wildlife, it’s the perfect bite sized morsel. Birds, fish, and animals often confuse micro-trash as food and end up ingesting large amounts of plastic, glass, and other harmful toxins. Just as you might imagine, these non-biodegradable items can be choking hazards and even cause dangerous internal blockages.

2. It Becomes Micro-plastic

When micro-trash is left out in the elements, it breaks down into even smaller particles called micro-plastic. And no surprise here, micro-plastic can be harmful to our environment. You can find these teeny, tiny plastic particles everywhere. They’re in our water, food, even the air! There’s not enough research to know if they pose a significant health threat to humans but they are especially dangerous to fish and birds.

3. It Hurts Our Watershed

Heavy rains and snow melt pick up micro-trash and carry it into our watershed where it flows through rivers and creeks into our lakes and meadows. Micro-trash adds up over time, polluting our waterways, disrupting the watershed, and compromising our clean drinking water, the very same water that wildlife, birds, and fish rely on.

Examples of Micro-Trash

  1. Plastics: Pieces of plastic torn from trail mix wrappers or protein/candy bars, plastic bags, or labels from bottles; hard plastics such as soda bottle caps, floss sticks, pens, broken buckles from backpacks or camping supplies, lighters, flashlight batteries, fishing lures, and utensils.

  2. Metals: Beer bottle caps, pull-tabs from soda/beer cans, lids from canned food, tin foil, small tools or knives, and fishhooks. Pieces of grommets from tarps.

  3. Glass: The Sequoia National Forest and our Campground maintain a No Glass policy when adventuring on this Forest or our private Campground. Once broken, it is nearly impossible to pick up all the pieces.

  4. Other: Other types of discarded articles can include s’mores sticks, cigarette butts, loose paper from books or notebooks, bits of string or rope, fishing string or nets, toilet paper, tissues, torn clothing, and even things we traditionally think of as safe to discard, such as sunflower seeds and the hulls of nuts.

Burning plastic, metal, treated wood, and other garbage releases harmful pollutants in the air. These pollutants land and attach themselves to vegetation and water. Burned garbage also leaves thick sludge in fire rings, making campsite cleaners’ jobs difficult.

Pro Tip: Use on-site trash and blue recycling containers at campgrounds and visitor centers.

What can you do about Micro-Trash?

Read and follow Leave No Trace Principles by planning for and disposing of trash properly. Leave what you find; be considerate of others and respect wildlife.

Bring a sturdy bag – such as a reusable canvas, heavy plastic, or a dry trash bag that will last your whole trip. Keep it easily accessible to all members of your group. Keep an eye on your meal prep areas, where you sleep and especially where the kids eat. If something gets dropped or broken, clean it up right away. Get your children involved and make a Scavenger Hunt game for them to find 15 pieces of micro-trash, and then do a good, long ‘sweep’ of your whole campsite before you leave.

Pick up other people’s micro-trash when you spot it, don’t just walk past it. You can do this on your own or join an organized community clean-up event.

Encourage others around you to do the same, whether in passing on the trail, or helping a friend or family member to plan their own trip, or just make a small post on social media. Adding your voice to this important discussion will only help to amplify this crucial message. Teaching the next generation to care for and respect our wild spaces is vital.

Use our Blue recycling buckets conveniently located throughout our Kern River Campground to reduce the amount of waste you create.

It takes a little extra effort to be conscientious of your actions, keep track of everything you bring into the wilderness, and make sure you pack out every bit of your stuff back out again. Trash, no matter how small, is still trash.

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