Imagine your favorite park scene: lush trees, verdant grasses and birdsong above you. Or maybe you’re a beach person, and your scene includes soft sand dunes, sun glittering on the sea and the sound of waves crashing. Now shift the scene slightly: add overflowing garbage cans, litter lining your path and the sound of buzzing bees. Which scene do you prefer?
Carry-in, carry-out trash removal is a staple of park systems and natural spaces around the globe, and is one of the seven principles of Leave No Trace (Dispose of Waste Properly). The premise is simple: anything you bring into parks, you take out with you. In 1994, Delaware State Parks established the Carry-in, Carry-out Trash Free Parks Program with a few simple goals: improve visitor experiences, reduce impacts on the planet and better steward our financial and human resources.
Improved visitor experiences
In natural settings, the presence of trash – especially food and its packaging – leads to an increased presence of wildlife. Living life in the wild is hard, so wildlife are opportunistic when it comes to a free meal. Combine spaces with lots of people recreating and lots of wildlife snacking and you set the stage for negative interactions. From wasps terrorizing people at trash cans to raccoons and foxes making daytime appearances in crowded areas – by removing trash cans, we reduce these types of experiences and ensure that people in our parks are safer.
Improved health of the ecosystem
The cornerstone of Delaware State Parks relies on taking care of the natural world, and litter is an enormous problem – it causes injury to wildlife, prevents plant growth and upsets the balance of ecosystems. By removing trash cans and moving to a carry-in, carry-out model we share the important work of preventing trash from harming natural spaces by each doing our part.
Better use of resources
Removing trash from parks is a huge job! In 1994 when Delaware State Parks first made the transition to a carry-in, carry-out model, the cost of trash removal was $55,000 annually. This did not include the pay of 2-3 members of staff at each park responsible for emptying trash cans, replacing bags and picking up litter from around the park. Adjusted for today’s trash removal costs and payrates, trash cans in Delaware State Parks would cost a whopping $775,000 annually! As a 70% self-funded organization, it’s important that we steward our financial – and human – resources carefully to continue offering the award-winning parks people know and love!
Lend a hand!
Help us preserve the beautiful spaces you enjoy in a two simple steps.
- Carry-out what you carry-in
- Think critically about what you’re bringing with you during a visit to the park! When you do bring items that will need disposed of in, plan for removal ahead of time. A simple reusable bag, container or bucket in your vehicle is great for transporting trash home with you for disposal.
- While parks are far cleaner now than in the past, trash still ends up where it shouldn’t be. Join an organized cleanup with our volunteering team or other local organizations, or commit to cleaning up spaces during your visit.
Everyone deserve to enjoy and recreate in natural spaces that are trash-free. Do Parks Better and do your part to help keep them clean! Learn more about Delaware State Park’s Carry-in, Carry-out program here. For more information on the 7 principles of Leave No Trace, please visit: www.lnt.org
This article is part of the Parks Better series, designed to help park visitors understand how to be good stewards of the parks we love. Check out other articles in this series, here.