Tally Trash Challenge – But is it trash?

by Madelyn Luther

Throwing banana peels, orange peels, or apple cores on the side of the road or a hiking trail may seem harmless. But in reality, these materials don’t biodegrade as quickly as we may think. The rate of decomposition for various organic materials depends on many environmental factors, and it can take months to years for orange peels, fish bones, and other organic waste to fully decompose. What’s more, in arid environments, decomposition happens even slower. It is important to remember that tossing organic waste is considered littering and should be avoided.

Beyond the relatively slow decomposition rate, there are other vital reasons to dispose of organic waste properly. A viral Facebook post from Glacier National Park notes how decomposition happens slowly and littering threatens wildlife and local ecosystems. Improper disposal could attract animals to the food scraps that may have been littered in an area that is heavily trafficked by humans such as busy highways or hiking trails, which can threaten wildlife and increase roadkill events. Tallahassee’s St. Francis Wildlife Association often receives injured raptors like hawks and owls who were attracted to the other critters eating roadside litter. Moreover, so-called “natural” waste items are often not native to the area they are littered in. Animals may not digest these foreign food items very well and non-native plant growth may occur from seeds in the food scraps.

Instead of littering your organic waste, consider composting. According to the EPA, composting is “nature’s way of recycling.” Composting adds nutrients to the soil, protects environments, and creates resilient communities. In addition, researchers Faraz Farhidi, Kaveh Madani, and Rohan Crichton note how composting is also economically viable to our community as a whole and reduces carbon emissions. Do research before composting, however, because certain materials should not be composted at home.

Whether you decide to compost or properly dispose of your organic waste in the trash, doing so will save wildlife and preserve local ecosystems. The next time you think about throwing a banana peel out of your car window, consider its impact on the world around you.

Learn more about how long it takes for things to biodegrade here.

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