The Island Got Me Thinking…
So we are back on the mainland for the duration of the year. We are planning on going to stay with my family for the holidays since it has been almost seven years since I have gotten to really spend the holidays with my family in Arizona. We had a really good time living on Catalina Island these last two months and it was a really great experience getting to teach. The job is a little difficult to explain but basically what we were doing was teaching marine biology and environmental stewardship to middle school students with a non profit called Mountain and Sea Adventures. The way the program works is, schools sign up to come out and do a 5,4, or 3 day science camp trip with their students and we teach them classes that also come with really cool activities normally unavailable in the classroom. We took kids snorkeling, kayaking, hiking and more on a weekly basis. The really cool part about the program is that we work out of a Boy Scout camp that is located at the coolest bay on the island, Emerald Bay, and we had access to some of the best places to do the outdoor activities we were doing in the state! It was an amazing experience and we are really excited to see what next season has in store as there is also a mountain camp that is held near Big Bear, California chock full of amazing hiking and other activities that backpackers like us just love!
But in our time on the island, we spent a lot of time teaching environmental stewardship and in that we also learned some pretty disturbing facts about what is currently happening to our planet and the island has got me thinking: how are my actions affecting the nature that I love? Part of what we learned that I don’t think is actually being talked about is just how bad plastic is for us all. I certainly didn’t realize most of it. Of the plastic that actually makes it into a recycle bin, only 3.5% is actually recyclable. That’s 96.5% of all recycled plastic is not recycled and still ends up in a landfill and that’s just what makes it into the bin. What about all the plastic that never sees the recycling center at all? Something else I was unaware of is that because plastic is non-biodegradable, all the plastic that has ever been made is still in existence and we are never getting rid of it. The oceans are getting a beating from it too. There are these things called garbage patches that are out in the oceans which are full of plastic and other non-biodegradable trash. Not all of them are as visible as the one in the Pacific Ocean but it still stands that the oceans are filling up with our trash and it is really harmful to the animals who eat it unknowingly thinking it is food. Also I didn’t realize that any plastic that goes into the ground actually keeps plant life from growing there. There is also a good amount of research that does indicate that plastic at any temperature can seep chemicals into our food and water, though there is no concrete evidence of this.
I want to be clear. I am not an environmentalist. I am not fond of that title, as it has negative connotation for a large portion of Americans and can include a political movement or mindset that can create an antagonistic reaction. I am, however, a conservationist and feel it is hypocritical to say I love the natural world but then do nothing to help preserve it. All of this has brought me to the conviction that many ultralight backpacking gear choices are not in line with my personal beliefs since many contain non-biodegradable material. Ultimately to do any ultralight backpacking that is 100% free of non-biodegradable materials is impossible and frankly I’ve never seen anything good come from extremism of any kind, but I do think that I will begin adding the question, “is this good for the environment and if not, is there something that performs the same function that is?” onto my list of things I ask before buying gear. Also I think anything I already use that is a durable plastic should be used to its fullest before throwing it out and replaced with something different. I feel the need to immediately stop cooking in a freezer bag method, though I will probably continue using dehydrated meals, preferably homemade. There will be some complete overhaul of a few of my gear kits to eliminate as much wasteful plastics as I can, such as cheap non durable plastic water bottles and switch to more durable plastic or possibly something else altogether. I will probably never use Esbit or any similar fuel again and do some serious research on liquid fuels and whether they are safe. This is one place where the UL method of alcohol fuel is actually one of the more environmentally friendly solutions, though the even more friendly method of wood burning is even better albeit sometimes impractical. Metals like titanium and aluminum are far easier to recycle and aluminum is actually easier and less wasteful to recycle than it is to make new! I’m certainly not trading my nylon packs and tents for canvas ones or going to start carrying 2 liter aluminum bottles down the trail, but there are a lot of things that I can do to conserve as much of our natural resources, stop filling up landfills and still backpack in an ultralight fashion without feeling a pang of guilt for being part of the problem that could one day mean my kids won’t be able to backpack the natural beauty of this world for themselves.