Even if you didn't pack it in, please pack it out

Picking up and properly disposing of trash can be your good deed for the day.

Over the weekend, I was hiking along the edge of a tall grass prairie when I was startled by a noise that sounded like a plastic bag rattling at the base of the grass. When I stopped to look, I couldn’t see anything on the ground but I could see the tops of the grass moving erratically in the direction from which the noise was coming. I looked closer, and a large white something started snaking its way through the grass! Not knowing what it was, I took a step back, then one forward when it stopped moving. It was a white plastic bag! One that had seemingly come to life for a minute or two, and now lay motionless and woven through the bases of the tall grass.

At first I felt foolish for being startled by the motion of a plastic bag. My thoughts then turned to the small animal (likely a mouse) that had become entangled in the bag and caused the noise that made me to stop to take a look. Luckily, the small animal had freed itself from the bag, as it was running through the grass. What might have happened if it didn’t?

You may have seen videos of people taking it upon themselves to pull an empty jar of peanut butter from the bear’s nose or the plastic ring of a six pack off of a bird’s neck. It’s something we feel compelled to do, even if it is dangerous and not recommended to approach a wild animal in distress. Helping may be the right thing to do – let’s try to do it proactively, for the safety of both ourselves as well as the animal.

Tips for picking up trash on your daily walk:

  • If you are a regular walker, consider wearing a light backpack or handbag purchased specifically to hold trash. All types of bags are readily available for a minimal cost at most thrift store outlets or at garage sales. Purchase one that fits well or is comfortable to hold so that it is not burdensome to take along on a daily walk or hike. Being comfortable will help to ensure that wearing it becomes a regular habit!
  • Outfit your bag with some tissues or paper towels so that you can use those, rather than your bare hands, to pick up trash that might be sticky, or undesirable to touch. You can also keep smaller paper bags or plastic baggies in your pack to fill with the sticky or small bits of trash you might encounter on your walk. Be sure to properly dispose of the trash along your walk if a public trash can is available, or when you return home. Lastly, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to avoid spreading germs as a result of your good deed.

Doing something as simple as picking up trash when you see it is akin to paying it forward – and will brighten up the next person’s walk through the area. Picking up trash also helps keep animals from investigating the trash for bits of food or nesting material. Lastly, it helps keep trash from our storm drains and eventually our waterways, where it has little hope of being picked up by humans and has greater potential to negatively affect wildlife.

Helping to clean up trash is part of Michigan State University’s Global Service Day, which was April 8, 2017. Each spring, Michigan State University staff, students and Extension professionals do their part to pick up trash or perform another form of service to make Michigan a better place. The annual date is usually set for early spring, so keep watch for 2018’s date and join in the effort!

In the mean-time, next time you are in the woods or your neighborhood, be sure to end your walk leaving the area looking cleaner and less dangerous to wildlife by coming home and disposing of trash you picked up along the way. Your neighbors – human and wild – will thank you!

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