Is Biodegradable Food Considered Litter?

At this point, I’m sure you’ve all heard most of the information regarding Leave No Trace principles and strategies for limiting your impacts upon hiking trails and those upon your fellow trail users.

As use of hiking trails — and the back country areas through which they pass — increases, all of us must be especially mindful of even the smallest effects you may have on the land and on the experiences of those around you. One example of what some may consider a negligible impact is the biodegradable food waste people might leave behind to decompose.

banana peel on hiking trail - Is biodegradable food considered litter? Find out

One person’s food waste left to biodegrade is a significant eyesore for the next person coming up the trail, not to mention what’s at stake for the natural environment.

Stating the obvious, most hiking trails do not pass through apple orchards, orange groves, or banana plantations, yet the leftovers of these fine trail foods are left behind as if they are not trash. They are. This isn’t unique to any specific trail, and I’m sure we’ve all seen it. In fact, a fellow hiker of mine from Scotland had recently done some research on how long it takes for things to biodegrade. She said that in Scotland, where many of the mountains, or Bens as they call them there, are strewn with banana peels.

There, the most common biodegradable items found along the trail include apple cores, which can take up to eight weeks to decompose, and orange peels and banana skins, both of which can take up to two years! Many hiking trails in the U.S. pass though much drier climates than what exists in Scotland, so it probably takes even longer for food wastes to decompose in the deserts of, say, Southern California or in the high elevations of the High Sierra.

orange peels on hiking trail - Is biodegradable food considered litter? Find out.

While it is certainly a bonus to have some fresh produce while out on the trail, please be prepared to pack out orange peels and banana peels and other food wastes — biodegradable or not. When it comes to apples, I’ve long been eating the entire apple and am left with just a few seeds to stick in my pocket or in my trash bag.

“Pack it in, pack it out” is one of the original tenets of back country travel. And, it’s a fairly simple one. Leave No Trace means just that. With summer coming and the increased popularity of several hiking trails, we all have a responsibility to the next person and to be good stewards of the land. If you pack it in, please remember to pack it out. Both the hiking trails and your fellow hikers thank you.

6 thoughts on “Is Biodegradable Food Considered Litter?

  1. Ah Ha. Finally I meet another person who eats the whole apple. I only know of one other than yourself who does this. I am in two minds about this subject. The last thing I want to see is signs of other hikers or litter of any type on a trail. I tend to dig a small hole( off trail) and dispose of my peels that way. My thinking is that its one less plastic bag as well as less waste on a landfill site. Am I wrong in doing this? What are your thoughts?

    • Burying your peels is certainly preferable to just tossing. We do have to bury of our own human waste when it can’t be packed out with us after a hike as well. But in my opinion it’s just the “lesser of two evils.” Though “evil” may be a strong word since we’re not referring to heinous acts here. When it comes to litter, there is so much more to deal with out there than just fruit peels — sadly. Basic rule of thumb, however: If it’s not native to the area, it doesn’t belong. Additionally, your pack-out bag can be a reusable one.

      You should try eating all the apple! Lots of good for you fiber there. 😀

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