When I was an environmental educator at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in Brattleboro, Vermont, there was a game I played with students to teach awareness. I called it “Household in the Woods”. Back in early 1990s when I was joining the environmental education field, I learned the activity as “The Unnatural Trail”. It was usually what we considered to be trash or recycling quazi-hidden along a trail and the students were asked to look for things that don’t belong in the woods. It was designed to teach observation skills. The reason for the name change was to demonstrate that the items the students were looking for were familiar items in an unfamiliar setting – for the items. Human-made tools, trinkets, etc. all come from the Earth as raw resources. It is what humans do to these resources that recreate them into something we determine to be useful. But our stuff is not unnatural – we and our creations are part of Nature. It’s just that if we are not building for cradle to cradle, but cradle to grave, it is not helpful to our health or wildlife’s health to simply discard our stuff without properly taking care of it.
I can’t not notice things that don’t belong along our roads and trails. Unclaimed doggie poop bags for one. I’d rather the person just left the poop to decompose than see colorful plastic bags full of their pup’s poop on the side of road or trail. Did you know, that depending on the amount of sunlight the plastic bag is exposed to, it can take anywhere between 10 to 100 years to rot away to micro-plastic” (less than 5mm long). Whereas, in comparison, depending on the site and conditions, it may only take up to 1 year for doggie poo to pass away.
And then there are beer cans. Why just this past weekend, my partner John and I were walking along our road and came across several “middens” of beer cans. Now it would be curious to consider a human individual who, acting like a gray or red squirrel opening and eating nuts in an open area to watch for predators, would hang out along the side of the road, as if it were his dinner table and consume several fermented beverages before moving along to the next activity. Though a part of me wanted to think this person or persons were so comfortable as to consider the woodland edges their homes, another part of me was entirely annoyed that they were very messy eaters. And unlike the squirrels’ nut hull fragments, which rot rapidly by comparison (months to a year), aluminum cans can take up to 500 years to decompose. 500! Due to this lengthy decomposition time, John and I picked up the cans for recycling. (You’re welcome.) At least recycled, each can could be a new can within 60 days. Plus we came out 60 cents richer. Woohoo!
While several of our New England fruits persist on vine and branch through the winter and by spring ferment, and the birds and small mammals consuming them can become inebriated, humans really shouldn’t be doing this along a roadway. Non-human animals may not know the dangers of drinking and flying (or scampering), but I am fairly certain that it is public knowledge to humans that one should not drink and drive. (It’s also illegal.) I would also think it was clear and public knowledge that it is not good or neighborly behavior to dump household items and the non-compostable remains of one’s meal in the woods and fields. Though some ant colonies will think an empty beer can is quite a lovely home and would be quite frustrated with you if you attempt to evict them, generally speaking, empty beer cans really have no purpose along the roadside, or in our streams, wetlands, fields, or woods.
So to recap: When I facilitated this game, “Household in the Woods”, we picked up all the items after the children had located the objects. We did not leave our human household items in the woods; we returned them to their proper place, where they could continue their purpose or recycled them for a new purpose. Your beer cans – whoever you are – should be recycled for a new purpose. And hey, just think, what you could do with all that extra change when you bring your cans in to the redemption center to be redeemed…
So redeem thyself while enjoying the Great Outdoors by picking up after yourself (i.e. don’t be a litterbug). The environment, wildlife (except the ants), and your human neighbors thank you.
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