There is a widespread and incredible attitude that people are adopting with whole hearts when it comes to being outdoors, typically camping or hiking or participating in nature activities. The attitude is, “Leave no Trace.”
That moment in Wild when Reece Witherspoon (portraying Cheryl Strayed) tries to light a fire with a match and the match goes out… What does she do? She throws it on the ground! I was reeling! Instead, respectful hiking guidelines would suggest collecting that match or throwing it back in to the fire. Something as small as a match makes a big difference.
If you’re not familiar with these three words, “leave no trace” is the practice of enjoying and experiencing nature and leaving your surroundings just as you found them – like you were never there. This means taking home with you all the packaging, waste, and property you possess or create, and leaving the plants and trees, flowers and rocks, and all you come across where in its place. There are a bunch of resources now about how to be more respectful to your environment. You can explore the seven principles across the web (Scouts Canada has this pdf, and there’s also a leavenotrace.ca non-profit initiative to check out).
I learned about “leaving no trace” quite early on in my adolescence and became a bit obsessed with adopting it into my daily life, despite living in the city. How can I leave no trace… all the time?
With an onslaught of information and research, I decided to take small steps towards a larger goal: to leave as little trace as I can in my every day life. I decided to consume less and live more. I spend less money on things and instead I save up for experiences. I thought about my use of water, food, and material goods and decided to be more mindful.
Here are some things I do every day that I didn’t do before I committed to leaving no trace:
- I always bring a reusable bag for my groceries. If I forget, I don’t take a plastic bag. I carry my purchases in my arms. It’s really important to remember this, I tell myself constantly.
- I always use a reusable coffee cup when I’m out (Keep Cup makes amazing cups that are standard sizes (8, 12, 16oz) light, small, and available at many cafes) and a Nalgene bottle (BPA free for $14 at MEC) or glass for my water. I’ve vowed to never take a disposable bottle of water unless I’m dying from dehydration. It might seem extreme but I’m proud of this commitment (check out Ban the Bottle for some quick facts).
- I try to shake dry my hands in public washrooms instead of using paper towel or hand dryers. Think of that over flowing garbage can of paper towel in every washroom and multiply it by the number of businesses on that street, in that neighbourhood, in that city, in that province, in that country that have the same bin… I don’t want to contribute to that waste. I try to avoid hand dryers because electricity is valuable and I don’t want to waste it.
- On that note, I turn off the lights in all the rooms I do not occupy. I even turn off the lights in public bathrooms in offices that are quiet and, thus, don’t get much bathroom attendance. What a waste!
- I turn off the tap while I’m brushing my teeth. Water running when you’re not using it is big waste. I also have a jug of water that I pour undrinkable water in to and use it to water my plants. Water from boiling hard boiled eggs, cups of water that my cats have sneakily drank out of, and water I used in my hot water bottle, for example, would go into this jug.
- I pay attention to what goes down the drain. A while back I became shockingly aware of the affect my shampoos, soaps, conditioners, etc. have on the world’s water. A great many chemicals found in shampoos, soaps, and perfumes (like parabens, phthalates, and sodium lauryl sulfate) are not filtered out at treatment plants and can end up in our oceans causing serious distress to aquatic life. Now I buy all-natural, biodegradable products.
- I wash my clothes on cold. This saves energy and reduces carbon pollution.
- I always try to bike more than drive or take public transit. I never really wanted a car, but I ended up with one. After happily selling it and hopping on a bike, I not only feel mobile and healthy but this movement is powered by my body. And I’m outside, and that feels amazing. We also used Autoshare, an affordable car sharing service, which offers hybrid vehicles. Autoshare allows us access to a vehicle without the extra cost, and the hybrid vehicles aren’t as awful as those gas guzzlers out there!
- I eat all the food I buy, unless it’s absolutely rotten. I plan my meals around what is in my fridge with the goal to throw out as little as possible. Even if I don’t feel like eating something, I get creative and make it into a meal. With an open mind, you can usually find something pleasing to create!
- I try to shop as local as possible. I try my best to buy food with minimal packaging, sticking to market vegetables and such.
- I ditch saran wrap and use tupperware. This is an easy one!
- I try to carry a small silver fork with me. Plastic cutlery is yet another form of waste and I’ll try to reuse it if I’m stuck without my mini silver ikea fork (they’re small and perfect for purses and knapsacks!). A MEC spork would also work, and would be a bit lighter!
- I upcycle, refurbish, and practice sustainable living. Wherever I can I reuse or remake something old into something usable or workable. Brian and I even created a company called Porch Light which sells coffee soap because we were tired to throwing out our coffee grinds! You’d be surprised what you can make with things you ditch on the daily!
To some, these steps may seem like no brainers, but before I decided to live this way, I wasn’t living this way. These practices are all conscious decisions I make on a daily basis, and despite practicing these for over 10 years, I still have to tell myself to make them. I still have to encourage myself to gather my produce in my arms when I forget my bags, to stay at the cafe for my coffee when I forget my cup, and to make a salad at home when I have all the fixings but want to order pizza instead. Indeed, I do more and there’s a lot more that I can do, and I’m moving toward it on a daily basis.
It’s important to take small, mindful steps towards the direction you want to head. It’s important to be an example for those around you. It’s important to speak up about things you believe in, and to share your thoughts with people who may not understand where you’re coming from. It’s important to lead the life you want to live, and I want don’t want to leave a material trace, but rather an experience.
What are some things you’re doing to “leave no trace”? Let us know in the comments below.
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