By: Sawyer Smith
What are they, and what are we doing in areas that don’t have them?
For many people, the joy of going out into nature is directly tied to the act of separating themselves from the hustle and bustle of modern-day cities and towns. They seek solitude and seclusion, and that often means leaving behind many of the comforts they enjoy back home. In more remote areas, adventurers may not have access to indoor plumbing, a real bed, a refrigerator, etc.
A lot of you have been camping before, you know the drill.
But there’s something else that we take for granted in the city, something that many wilderness areas and rural communities across the country simply don’t have the resources to provide. That is varied and well-managed waste streams.
What Exactly is a Waste Stream?
For those who don’t know, a waste stream is sort of like the ‘life cycle’ of trash. It starts from the moment an item of trash is produced—e.g. when you unwrap a piece of candy, unbox an online order, or check your mail and find a bunch of expired coupons. What was once a useful item to you has now become garbage, and therefore it needs to be put somewhere. Thus begins the waste stream.
If you’re in a city, you have a lot of options in regard to disposing of your trash. You probably have garbage and recycling receptacles in the alleyway behind your house or personal bins that you drag out to the curb once a week. There are systems in place to make it easier for you to dispose of unwanted waste products.
Are those systems perfect? Absolutely not. But that’s a whole different story. The point is, there are ways for the trash to get from your house to the correct disposal facilities that require little to no effort on your part.
The same cannot be said for many rural areas. Take, for instance, two out of the three headquarter locations for Holiday River Expeditions—Vernal and Green River. These are two small, rural communities that for many different reasons, political and otherwise, do not have the budget to launch a full-scale recycling program. This means, for groups like Holiday River, operating in and around the area, all recycling responsibilities fall on the dedicated staff.
What Does Holiday River’s Waste Stream Look Like?
Creating one’s own system of waste management isn’t as difficult as it may sound, but it can be time-consuming and often requires a group effort. The waste stream developed and utilized by Holiday River Expeditions, starts with the collection and organization of all trash produced both at the warehouses and on the river.
This trash is divided into one of four categories: plastic, tin, aluminum, and paper/cardboard. After that, any trash that once wrapped or carried food items needs to be washed—especially trash produced on the river, so as to not attract any bears or small, hungry critters.
Anything that can’t be recycled is separated out as well and divided into one of two categories: ‘wet trash’ and everything else. The so-called ‘wet trash’ is thrown into an aptly named ‘yuck-bucket’ and much of that waste ends up being composted.
While collecting and organizing the trash can sometimes be a tedious or unpleasant job, the real commitment comes in the form of driving all that trash to the nearest recycling facility. Most of those facilities are in the Salt Lake area, which means individuals could be driving up to three hours just to properly dump all the trash.
The compost, on the other hand, is up for grabs. Anyone working for Holiday River is free to take it home and use it in their backyard gardens.
Why Go Through All the Trouble?
Lauren Wood, part-time river guide and Trip Director for Holiday River Expeditions, said that it was the ‘visceral reality’ of seeing how much trash 20 people can create after just a few days on the river that pushed them, the other guides, and ownership to develop a recycling program. They went on to explain that Holiday River has been invested in recycling measures for as long as they can remember and that everyone working for HRE “cares a lot about our waste stream.”
The values behind responsible waste management are the same values that drive all outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers to ‘leave no trace‘. Wanting to reuse and recycle in any and every way possible comes from both the desire to create less trash in general and the fear of what will happen if we don’t.
There’s a lot that can be said in regards to large-scale recycling programs in the US, but regardless of how effective or efficient any one jurisdiction is at recycling its trash, there’s one thing we can say for certain—that those recyclables do not belong in our riverways. By drawing attention to both the amount of trash produced and what it takes to effectively dispose of said trash, the guides on Holiday River Expeditions make a point to educate all trip attendees on the importance of picking up after themselves and keeping places wild.
If being more conscious of where our trash goes, and taking the extra effort to dispose of it in the most eco-friendly way available to us, means there is even one less item of trash polluting our precious natural areas, then I’d say it’s worth it.
A Deeper Meaning to “Leave No Trace”
While most people visiting the remote areas of central and southern Utah are respectful of the land, guides do come across trash now and then. Lauren even off-handedly mentioned “glitter in the sand” which sounds more like the name of an 80s pop ballad and less like an ecological hazard, but it’s important to note nonetheless.
“Leave No Trace” means not only taking precautions against dropping glitter on the ground during your late-night river rave, but also leaving less of a trace on the world as a whole. It means not absentmindedly contributing to the growth of landfills/hazardous waste sites, which are often located in low-income areas or in developing nations around the world. It means thinking about what sort of environment we are leaving behind for future generations.
It means finding creative ways to turn our trash into something that can actually benefit the Earth, maybe in the form of compost.
… Or perhaps in the form of pig food. (Just a little inside joke for the people who remember the days that Holiday River kept a pig around!)
Sawyer Smith is a Utah native currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t working as a freelance writer or hiking through sections of the Mark Twain National Forest, she is planning trips in her head back to her beloved state to once again climb on the red rocks and ski down the snowy mountains.