PCT '23 - Trail Trash Survey
From March to September 2023, Tori McGruer, Ph.D., and Macy Gustavus M.S. are surveying trash and microplastics along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) while hiking 2,650 miles from Southern California to Northern Washington. This 5+ month trip will be the largest standardized survey of its kind and will provide a baseline assessment of the characteristics and quantity of trash and plastic pollution on trails.
Goal 1: Trash survey
We will conduct a 1 km macro-trash survey every 10 miles of hiking to determine the quantity, type, and distribution of litter on trails. We will also pick up and carry out all the litter we can ;)
Goal 2: Microplastics survey
Much of the plastic produced each year ends up in the environment where it does not biodegrade but rather breaks down into infinitely smaller pieces called microplastics. We will collect soil for microplastic analysis every 50 miles of trail.
Goal 3: Talk trash!
Fellow trail users can join the No Trace Trails trash survey team and collect litter data on trails near them. Sign up here.
To date, most research on trash or plastic waste has been focused on what ends up in waterways and oceans. However, few studies have surveyed trash on trails or in a wilderness setting, and those that exist are outdated or have been very limited in scope. Yet, we know litter in these areas is difficult to remediate due to access issues. Recently, U.S. policy has prompted a closer look at waste management and production on public lands, and in June 2022 the Department of the Interior (DOI) established a goal to "phase out single-use plastic products on public lands by 2032".
While the DOI goal confronts the plastic pollution problem on public lands, most data on trash in these areas comes from disparate one-time clean-up surveys, the results of which often are not available to policymakers, scientists, or the public. This data gap provides an opportunity for our survey to directly inform policy on public lands and provide a baseline dataset that can be used to assess policy effectiveness as it is implemented.