While we all recognize the need to pack out what we pack in to our wilderness areas, what about biodegradable or natural trash like banana peels, sunflower seed shells, peach pits, orange peels, pistachio shells, and apple cores? Leave-No-Trace principles extend well past your granola-bar wrapper.

Landscape with biodegradable trash. 
Landscape free of biodegradable trash! 

Judging by the amount of “natural” biodegradable bits collected on a recent day hike on Haleakala, HI there is still generally some confusion on the issue.

Just because something is biodegradable that doesn’t mean that it is native to the environment you are in. Unless you are standing under an apple tree eating an apple, in a field of sunflowers spitting out sunflower shells, or next to a banana tree dropping a banana peel, these items likely don’t belong in the ecosystem you are visiting. They are still trash and need to be packed out with the rest of your trash for the following reasons:

1) Biodegradable trash is harmful to wildlife. Animals may eat it and become sick or start looking for more along trails and campsites. This can lead to negative encounters for both animals and people.

2) Seeds may grow introducing non-native vegetation to the area.

3) While they may be “biodegradable” depending on the area that could still take years to break down.

4) If everyone left their orange peels, apple cores, and pistachio shells it wouldn’t take long before you’d see them everywhere.

Remember to respect your surrounding environment by doing your best to truly leave no trace of your visit. If you do encounter some trash, biodegradable or otherwise, please pack it out with you. (You could even use it to make some fun trash art like this.) Put your trash in the trash and help keep our public lands wild!