(What a clickbaity, blatantly untrue headline, eh? The things you have to do to try to get attention on the internet.)
Here, in sentence three, I state the obvious: Littering is bad, and I’m not actually in favor of it. But I’m also unconvinced of just how significant an issue it is.
Note that I said “unconvinced.” Litter may be a major problem or a minor problem; I genuinely don’t know. Here’s some things that I think I know, and things I have suspicions about, and things that I would like to know to be able to understand how significant litter on OCR courses is.
First off, I haven’t noticed any particular issues with on-course litter. But I need to confess that I’m not an ideal person to make that assessment, because it’s unlikely that I would notice, in a very literal sense. I wear glasses in life, but as I’d like to keep those glasses for the drive home, I run the course with uncorrected vision. My vision isn’t so bad that I’m going to run off a cliff, but I could easily miss a series of Gu wrappers.
Second, I have a strong suspicion that race owners are ultimately responsible for course clean-up. I mean that in a legally, contractually binding sense. It seems logical that restoring the site to its original state (i.e., cleaning it up) would be part of any site rental contract. Of course, I don’t know that—I’m not privy to the contracts, so I don’t actually know what they contain, but I feel like that’s a reasonable expectation. (Race operators, if I’m incorrect here, please correct me!)
Third, assuming that race owners are responsible for cleaning the course after a race as they’re tearing it down, then it seems like it should be fairly easy to actually measure how much litter there is on course. Not nothing, but staff could have one bag for standard garbage and another for garbage that’s not a part of the course (markings and the like) and not inside (or obviously adjacent to overflowing) garbage cans.
I don’t know how easy that is—it doesn’t seem like too big a burden, especially if it only happens once as a test, but as I’ve never been involved in a course tear-down I don’t have any actual knowledge of how hard it would be to separate litter from standard garbage.
(I am making contact with a few races to ask if anyone has done so, and will update if I hear any response. If you are a race organizer and have information, please share!)
Knowing how much litter a course generates would be useful but not the whole story. I would also want to know how much litter is a lot. I mean, I doubt that there is any place in the country that’s absolutely 100% pristine with no litter whatsoever. How much litter is typical in a forest? How much would be found in a “clean” forest? How much would be considered “polluted”?
A very quick internet search didn’t bring up any definitions (although Wikipedia says there’s an average of 352 pounds per mile of roadside), but that’s probably a factor of the limited searching and my own lack of knowledge of the resources where this kind of information would be found. (And the fact that “plant litter” is a natural thing that exists, apparently to make keyword searching complicated.) I have emailed the US Forest Service to inquire if any such definitions exist, and will update if they respond. (I emailed at 9:40 pm shortly before publishing this post, so the fact that they have not responded in time for publication is not their fault.)
Why do I care?
Good question. As I said above, I’m not actually in favor of littering, and I’d like to use this space to say don’t litter. One could argue that the race organizers are ultimately responsible for leaving venues in the same condition that they found it in, but at the same time, making their job harder for no reason is just plain cunty, and it makes the world worse. So don’t.
At the same time, I like to understand issues, and I’d like for communities to spend energy and resources (both of which are limited) on issues in appropriate proportion to their significance. And this one seems a bit suspicious.
I became aware of the littering concern via Facebook rant, which naturally colors my perception: anything that’s a) posted on social media b) with an excess number of capital letters and c) any exclamation points that d) somehow manages to shoot spittle through my screen is inherently dubious. And, let’s face it, being opposed to littering is a fairly low-effort way to appear to be righteous, which many people seem to live for in an amazingly annoying (and counterproductive) way.
But “dubious” isn’t necessarily “wrong.” So instead of responding out of emotion, I’m hoping to provide a way for people to respond out of fact.
Hopefully, more information is to come.