National parks set their sights on being litter-free

  “I know how to eliminate litter at national parks,” he told the Undersecretary of the Interior. “How? How?” he responded, animated.

The Interior’s collective yearning to take on littering could create a template that could be effective for park districts across America. The Interior manages the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, all of which provide access to public lands, and with it, what’s become an inevitable litter problem.

At entrance kiosks: At park entry points, each visitor passes by a kiosk and talks to a park specialist before entering the park; nationally in 2015, there were 305 million visits. At first contact, the attendant would be required to tell each visitor: “Please join us in keeping the park clean. We ask you to pick up at least one piece of litter each day for your visit.” This goes to [former NPS director] Mott’s first rule: “Ask for what you want from people who can provide it.”

Free trash bags: Many local parks provide low-cost doggy bags for waste pick-up. National parks could do the same, that is, with small bags for litter and provide them at entry points. Many already keep a trash bag with them at all times in their vehicles, their boats, daypacks and backpacks. Make sure everyone has one.

The cigarette solution: Only 17 percent of the American public smokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yet you can spot cigarette butts almost anyplace. The instant solution is to ban cigarettes with filters in parks and limit smoking to specified sites. Get caught with a cigarette with a filter and rangers then eject you from the park.

Logo: Post no-litter logos where appropriate, so visitors get the repeated message. It works.

Brochure/newspaper: As new publications are developed as handouts at park entry points and visitor centers, the logo and repeated no litter/pick-up litter messages would appear on the cover of each. No new material and potential litter would need to be created. Repeated messages get remembered.

Billboards/trailheads: The logo and repeated no litter/pick-up litter message would be posted at every public information board and trash can.

Employee pick-up: The National Park Service alone has 22,000 employees. Each one, as a template for every park, anywhere, would be required to pick up at least one piece of litter each day, just as Mott started 30 years ago. As Mott said, this becomes a symbol that no one, starting with the national parks director, accepts litter, and that “We’re in this together to get rid of it.”

Crackdown: It’s a privilege to visit a park and anyone who violates that privilege should be cited with a $1,000 fine, just as the law prescribes, and in turn, rangers then eject them from the park.



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