Eco-Fixer: Litter-free hiking

"Pack Your Trash" is written in red on a piece of wood.

Holiday season in many parts of the world is over. You might not even have left your own country this year due to the CoVid-19 pandemic. This year was especially trying for tourists, but a lot of people also thought about their holiday habits and whether they really need to fly to another country for one week of beach holiday each summer. Many people – I included – stayed in their local area or country and went hiking this year. As a passionate hiker, I wanted to grab the opportunity to introduce you to two initiatives that encourage people to take their trash with them.

First, I want to tell you the benefits of hiking in your local or near local area compared to flying abroad. Even when you live in a large city, many national parks and hiking friendly areas can be reached by train and other public transport. If you have to use your car, make sure to take a few friends or family with you so that you don’t drive with a near-empty vehicle. Also, hiking together is much more fun when you go on a day trip.

Three hikers on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Hiking is a great way to exercise - alone or together. Photo: Julia Brunner

Going on a hike is very good for your health. You can choose your own pace and trek and the moderate exercise is also good for elders, people with health issues and kids. Hiking can be cheap as well. Mostly you don’t need special gear or clothes. Even special hiking shoes aren’t a must if you choose a trek without too many steep hillsides. When I hiked from South France to Western Spain on the pilgrim’s way El Camino, there were other hikers in running shoes (which is definitely a possibility) or even slippers (do not recommend).

You can also bring your own meals so that you don’t have to rely on expensive restaurants or kiosks to refuel. This is not only a great way to make sure that all your dietary needs are met – for example if you have allergies or live by a vegetarian or vegan diet – but it’s also good for your wallet.

Unfortunately, many people leave their trash when they are out in nature. Therefore, I want to introduce you to two different approaches on how a national park and one of the world’s most popular pilgrim’s way are handling the trash-problem.

A can in high grass.

Khao Yai National Park in Thailand has a drastic solution to litterers. Photo: Brian Yurasits l Unsplash

Keep your trash - or go to prison

In September 2020, the Khao Yai National Park near Bangkok made international headlines when authorities announced that they would start sending rubbish back to people who leave their waste behind. The park is very popular among hikers, but not all of them clean up after themselves. Fortunately for the authorities, park visitors have to register with their addresses which makes it easy for rangers to track them down and send them their rubbish back. However, this is not the end of it: littering in national parks is an offence punishable with up to five years in prison and hefty fines in Thailand. Better keep that in mind when you visit the country and one of its national parks next!

The yellow recycling bag

Like I said earlier, last year I hiked El Camino (or Saint Jacob’s Way), one of the world’s most popular pilgrim’s ways. For five weeks and nearly 800 kilometres I had to carry all my belongings on my back. That included clothes, a first aid kit and, of course, food. I was very surprised by how clean the Camino was, but I soon learned of El Camino de Reciclaje – an initiative from several Spanish states that lie on the Saint Jacob’s Way. Last year, over 350,000 people have walked on the pilgrim’s way to Santiago de Compostela. This amount of people naturally produced a lot of waste. El Camino de Reciclaje wants to encourage pilgrims to recycle their litter on the way. First of all, in the albergues, where the pilgrims stay over the night, you can get a yellow bag that is made of recycled PET. Here you can put in all the litter you collect over the day. Then, when you visit the next albergue, you can sort and recycle your trash into yellow and blue recycling bins. Yellow is for plastic bottles, metal cans and tetra briks. Blue is for all sorts of paper and carton.

Yellow recycling bag and a stamp card.

Pilgrims collect their trash in the recycling bag and get a stamp for their Compostela de Ecoperegrino. Photo: Julia Brunner

Next to the pilgrim’s stamps, people can also get stamps in their Compostela de Ecoperegrino. When you stamped it in three different eco-albergues and upload a picture of it on social media, the local government will plant a native tree in the state Galicia.

Lessons learned

Those are two very different approaches on how to get people to pick up their own litter. One works with punishment, the other with rewards. I’m rather excited to see how well both initiatives will fare over time. Nevertheless, what we can learn both from the authorities at Khao Yai National Park and El Camino de Reciclaje is: pick up your trash and don’t leave it behind. Nature is not our litter box and your trash can endanger plant and animal life. I always take my yellow recycling bag that I’ve kept from the Camino with me now when I go hiking. It’s really not that difficult to clean up after yourself. And if you managed to take all your food with you on a hike then it won’t be too heavy or difficult to take the empty packaging back with you.

Hello there! I'm Julia, co-founder of Eco-Spotlight and a freelance journalist. With Eco-Spotlight, I want to focus on sharing stories of inspirational people and positive impact, as well as learn more about the environment, and sustainability.

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