Hey Reddit - happy Earth Day! Four years ago while hiking in Sequoia national park we conducted our first wilderness trail trash survey. After hiking 70 miles we found 295 litter items on trail including 3 plastic bags filled with human feces. This survey opened our eyes to trash in wilderness areas. Next year (2023), I will spend five months living in the backcountry and hiking the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail to study trash on trails. This deep dive will be the largest trail trash survey ever done! We hope to use the litter data we collect to inform solutions to keep these resources clean.

Follow our trail trash survey @notracetrails on Instagram and Twitter and join our mailing list at [www.notracetrails.com]{http://www.notracetrails.com/]

The on-trail journey will be supported by an amazing off-trail team who are also here today: - Win Cowger - is a data scientist who has his Ph.D. in Environmental Science focused on trash research. He is currently a research scientist at the Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research. - Emin Israfil - is the lead developer at Rubbish, and a fellow trash and data enthusiast. He will be tech support for the journey to make sure all the litter data gets captured along the way.

  • Danielle Deltorchio - is the co-founder of Brewtrails (@Brewtrails), a Santa Cruz/Bay Area-based hiking meetup where hikers of all experience levels can come together to explore the outdoors and enjoy craft beer from local breweries. She will help the team with their social media and connection to other hikes.

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/2qntx9dk0su81.png

***EDIT - we're logging off for now - thanks for all the questions and we'll try to loop back later!

Comments: 217 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

marsrover001152 karma

Actually brilliant. Hike a trail but call it a research expedition to get funding. Since you will be living in a tent is this considered work from home?

NoTraceTrails90 karma

You are onto our plan, saw straight through it HAHA :)! We will be calling it work from home 100%. Don’t think we will get overtime for the 10+ hours a day of hiking though, haven’t figured that one out. But actually we are really excited about the research aspect, our team has Rubbish a startup focused on trash data collection, The Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research, a nonprofit research institute focused on trash research and is growing every day.

yousoonice44 karma

will you do it all in one go or take a tent?

NoTraceTrails51 karma

I expect to spend at least 150 days on trail! Definitely going to bring a tent

yousoonice19 karma

I was joking, well you be doing some kinda photo blog of it, Id certainly follow that, watching your progress and how the land changes.

NoTraceTrails29 karma


We will be super active on IG @notracetrails (https://www.instagram.com/notracetrails/)

We're also building out our website at www.notracetrails.com

SaintLucas35 karma

What are you specifically looking for in the data you collect that will help the greater population keep trails clean?

NoTraceTrails77 karma

Big questions are where is most of the trash (this will help us prioritize future cleanups and mitigation), what types of trash is there (will help us figure out how to better educate people and identify alternatives to the products), how much trash (help us identify the scope of the problem and assess costs to the environment).

BlogMasterJoyce18 karma

What is the best case outcome for this project and when is Netflix making your documentary?

NoTraceTrails48 karma

It would be awesome if we can get lots of other hikers logging and tracking trash with us. We want to use this data to build an anti-trash movement and get people trash talking!

americangypsy3 karma

My partner and I are planning to thruhike the PCT next year too and we’d love to help!

NoTraceTrails6 karma

So awesome!! We will have a sharable link through the app we are using for the survey (https://www.rubbish.love/) that other hikers can use to link to the project. DM me and we can keep in touch as we plan this out.

TittyMcNippleFondler17 karma

Are you going to include sounds from portable speakers in your trail trash survey?

NoTraceTrails6 karma

We're going to stick with things we can photograph, but interesting idea 🧐

Matti_Matti_Matti1 karma

Have you looked into the literature on art-walking (and walking art), and tracktivism because your project seems to overlap quite a bit.

NoTraceTrails2 karma

I haven't, I'll read into that - Thanks!

BlogMasterJoyce13 karma

How much toilet paper do you pack for a 2650 mile hike?!

NoTraceTrails35 karma

How much toilet paper do you pack for a 2650 mile hike?!

None if you use the backcountry bidet: https://andrewskurka.com/pooping-in-the-outdoors-part-4-the-backcountry-bidet/

BadAtHumaningToo12 karma

Will you be cleaning the trash up as you find it?

NoTraceTrails15 karma

I’ll carry out as much as I can! Here is team that carried out a lot: https://gearjunkie.com/proj/packing-it-out/packing-it-out-completes-pct-recaps-journey

the_tza12 karma

Have you ever come across hazardous materials, such as explosives or radioactive material?

NoTraceTrails18 karma

While hiking not as much, but some items can be a biohazard

NatureLover198911 karma

What's the most common trash you find on trails?

NoTraceTrails32 karma

Cigarettes by far… Also lots of other unique things you don’t find very commonly in other places like lots of band aids and pieces of tents, hiking poles, shoes, corners of foodpackaging

armchair_backpacker11 karma

Will "hiker boxes" and unstaffed "trail magic" caches count toward trash?

NoTraceTrails13 karma

That is a really good question. I haven't thru-hiked before so I don't know where hiker boxes and trail magic usually pop up. I have seen posts recently discouraging unattended trail magic. We will have to think about this more and include it in our survey methods.

sempersempervirens12 karma

This is a big issue in wilderness areas with bear boxes and I personally know all the rangers are frustrated by it. I am a long time employee of wilderness in sequoia kings canyon and Yosemite. I like your project and feel free to dm me If you want to talk wilderness trash and what employees have seen as issues!

NoTraceTrails5 karma

I remember seeing a "trash tally" rangers were keeping in Sequoia. DM'd you - would love to hear your thoughts!

sugarhack9 karma


NoTraceTrails20 karma

I have been saving up for several years to take the time off of work but we are looking for funding to support the research (TBD)

NoTraceTrails20 karma

We'll find a way to do it with or without

futureGAcandidate9 karma

Are you going to just be using a tent, or do you plan on packing something like a small hammock as well?

NoTraceTrails7 karma

A hammock would be really nice. I grew up in New England and there is always a place (trees) to pitch one. I think on this trip I will stick with a tent, it can be hard to find a hammock spot in the desert ;)

NatureLover19897 karma

Have you thought about what gear you will be bringing with you?

NoTraceTrails8 karma

Have you thought about what gear you will be bringing with you?

Yeah! My goal will be to keep things as light as possible I have a light gossamer gear pack but still looking for tent/sleeping - open to suggestions!

Dry_Calendar_5297 karma

I'm planning a 2023 CDT thru hike, is there any way I can get involved with this project?

NoTraceTrails12 karma

SO AWESOME! We will have a sharable link through the app we are using for the survey (https://www.rubbish.love/) that other hikers can use to link to the project. DM me and we can keep in touch as we plan this out.

remaking_the_noob7 karma

Do you prefer smooth or crunchy peanut butter?

NoTraceTrails9 karma

crunch 4ever

BlazerFS2316 karma

Tell us about the logistics! Will you all be camping? Hotels? Will you be leaning on trail angels? What will you do with the trash? If you clean as you go, how does that figure into your total time and what will you do if you come upon a massive dump?

NoTraceTrails13 karma

Great questions! Still figuring out some of the logistics but the plan is to camp most of the time with a night or two staying at a hotel every week or two when the trail passes near a town. Right now we are planning on having predetermined 1km survey sites spread throughout the trail. In that 1 km I will survey and try to clean all litter that I come across. We will do some practice surveys this summer to hone in our strategy, but we expect some surveys to go quickly and others may take long time.

sempersempervirens3 karma

I’d encourage you to check in at wilderness ranger stations or chat when you encounter rangers on trail. They do a ton of trash collecting and it might be nice to note areas they have recently cleaned that would affect what you find in your surveys. They likely will be pretty excited about your project as well.

NoTraceTrails2 karma

Great idea! I would love to hear more about what their trash reconnaissance looks like too

looselytethered5 karma

I'm curious to know as someone who has thru-hiked -- What qualifies as "litter data"? What do you guys keep track of? Density per mile? Quality of material?

NoTraceTrails5 karma

We will be using the Rubbish trash tracking app to collect our data which will allow us to take geotaged photos of the litter we find. With that information we will be able to make conclusions about the most common types of litter and where it is located- and could answer questions like density per mile. Having thru hiked was there any trash/litter that stood out to you?

looselytethered4 karma

Having thru hiked was there any trash/litter that stood out to you?

I think there was a bit of "oops I dropped that" trash where it was snack wrappers that was common. Otherwise, cigarette butts when we were closer to trailheads and towns.

The most obvious sort of trash was toilet paper (I always called them 'shit tickets') that wasn't properly buried or packed out according to leave no trace principles. I was 2015 so I'm sure that is only worse nowadays.

kivvi7 karma

You might be surprised. Was pretty clean last year. The further from day-hikers, the cleaner.

NoTraceTrails3 karma

For sure, we have definitely found that distance from trailheads matters! We did a 70 mile survey in the sierra in 2018. But right now we mostly have qualitative data, with this survey we want to get a full scope of whats out there - where are the hotspots, what predicts trash. This will help us prioritize future cleanups and mitigation.

NoTraceTrails3 karma

Agreed on the “oops i dropped that trash” We will definitely be keeping track of the shit tickets, haha maybe we should make that the official label.

bgottfried915 karma

Awesome initiative and I hope it produces some great data.

Question: Have you done or are you aware of any studies on the effectiveness of LNT education on trail trash? I sometimes worry that the only people who pay attention to LNT postings at trailheads or LNT education online are the people who would have packed their trash out anyway. Is there hope that the people who are leaving this trash just don't realize the impact or is it likely they know and don't care? I think every hiker has their own opinion on which is more likely, so it'd be nice to see some actual data on it!

NoTraceTrails4 karma

Good question. Not aware of the studies which assess how effective LNT is, but this study certainly could be used to assess that to some extent if we had data on where LNT education programs are very active. We have hope that society can improve the problem and think that collecting data on the problem is going to be the main way to advance that! Totally agree with you it will be nice to have some data to back up what we are thinking is going on. Honestly, I think a lot of the trash on trails is accidental, small corners of packaging, little scraps of food and stuff like that. From what I have seen in the backcountry, you rarely find a big pile of trash people dumped behind, but sometimes you do find that, especially in the bear boxes, people tend to treat them like a trash can.

ireaditforthejokes4 karma

Are you concerned about safety and what measures will you take to ensure it?

NoTraceTrails14 karma

Bear mace. Works great against bears and bros.

BeerInMyButt3 karma

On my bingo card for questions people ask female thru hikers, this is the free space

NoTraceTrails2 karma

Ha! Love it

DoppelFrog4 karma

Is this just a way to have your university pay for yiur hiking trip?

NoTraceTrails3 karma

Right now this is self-funded and I have saved up for a few years to take time off of work

EmperorOfFabulous4 karma

How much food do you plan on packing?

NoTraceTrails2 karma

I'll pack food for short stretches of trail (eg 1 week) and then resupply in towns near the trail

Home-NH4 karma

Do you start at the Mexican border or in Mexico itself?

NoTraceTrails9 karma

I'll start in Campo, California (Mexico border)!

KingPellinore3 karma

Can I come? I'm an Eagle Scout!

Not really, due to family and work, but I wish...

NoTraceTrails2 karma

Trail party!

oh_wuttt2 karma

This is so cool!! I lived in the Eastern Sierra for a year and was surprised at how much trash I would find even in the wilderness. In your experience, what type of trash did you find the highest proportion of (e.g., human waste related, food or beverage containers/wrappers, hiking/sports equipment related)?

Thanks for doing this super cool survey! So stoked for your journey and to see the results.

NoTraceTrails2 karma

We did a survey in 2018 on the high sierra trail. The grossest things we found was wagbags/ TP. But pieces of equipment or packaging are common

safeforworkharry2 karma

So glad I saw this AMA! As a PRT major working for a municipal govt, I have noticed that many organizations are clueless when it comes to understanding, and by extension managing, our shared outdoor resources. A couple related questions:

What are some of the ways in which you quantify your trash survey data, and how do you ensure consistency of your methods?

Do you collect qualitative trail user data as part of this survey, and if so, what is your strategy to make sure you are hearing a wide variety of voices?

Finally, how do you "make a living" doing this work? Are you contracted, do you sell your data to public entities, are you making your own way as a non-profit? Sorry if some of those options are reductive, I'm just personally interested!

Thanks for doing this!

NoTraceTrails3 karma

Thank you for the support! We will randomly select 100-200 sites along the PCT using GIS and survey them for 1 km each time. We will also do some follow ups of the same site to ensure we aren’t missing things and ensure reproducibility.

We don’t currently have a strategy for capturing qualitative data besides just our daily journal and reflections. To do a real survey of peoples perspectives would take IRB approval and we would want to collab with a social scientist.

Right now I have built up savings that I am planning on using in case other funding streams fall through. I have also applied for research funding through grants such as National Geographic Explorers.

[deleted]2 karma


NoTraceTrails3 karma

…post morning coffee. It's currently 10 am.

7er2 karma

Congrats on planning such a cool trip! I'm excited to follow along with your travels and see what fun trash you discover :) :)

Is there a way for the avid day hiker to contribute trash data to a survey like this?

Have fun & best of luck!!

NoTraceTrails1 karma

Thanks! We will have a project-specific link through the app we are using for the survey (https://www.rubbish.love/) that anyone Can use to survey for the project. DM me and we can keep in touch as we plan this out. In the meantime you can also use apps like this to do your own surveys

A_bowl_of_porridge2 karma

This sounds like both an amazing adventure and an excellent survey! I'm curious to see the results.

Your post mentions a team will be with you partaking in the research and surveying however there's no mention of actual clean up. Are you planning on arranging teams to work on actual trash collection too?

NoTraceTrails7 karma

We are definitely going to cleanup everything that we can. We will probably not be able to clean up very large items we find (e.g. a whole tent left behind) but anything we can fit in our bags we will pick up. We will be encouraging others we meet to cleanup the trail and cleanup after themselves too.

NoTraceTrails5 karma

NewToSociety2 karma

What is the longest hike you've done before? Anything like the PCT?

NoTraceTrails3 karma

This is definitely the longest thing I have ever done! I"ve generally only been able to do trips I could do while working (~week long)

Imonfiyah2 karma

Have you heard about trail names??

As is tradition on trail, every thru hiker gets a nick name. As a named thru hiker I bestow upon you the name, Trash Panda.

You can keep it if you like or not. Trail names are consensual.

My name is Reverned (Class of 2019) and my wife's is waterfall, who is on trail right now.

NoTraceTrails2 karma

WOW! Thank you! Figured my trail name would inevitably be trash-related...

Love Trash Panda :)

sugarhack2 karma


NoTraceTrails2 karma

We will be posting on @notracetrails for most social media accounts (IG will be big: https://www.instagram.com/notracetrails, just getting started). Also will have a blog up on http://notracetrails.com/

Thebluecane1 karma

Classic McGruer! Anyways no big question here except how is your day?

NoTraceTrails3 karma

Classic McGruer! Anyways no big question here except how is your day?

Bluecane! Living the life over here

brewtrails1 karma

That is such an amazing & long journey, which portion of the trail are you most excited about?

NoTraceTrails3 karma

That is such an amazing & long journey, which portion of the trail are you most excited about?

I LOVE spending time in the high sierra, but I honestly haven’t done much hiking in Washington and Oregon so very excited to spend time out there (esp. The cascades)

Thatwazmeen1 karma

How did they know it was human feces in the bag?

And please don't tell me some field scientist found a bag of shit and surmised there may be value in knowing what sort of asshole it was pushed out of.

We all know it was a human that bagged the shit regardless of where the shit came from, which is the important thing anyways. Why yest the bag of shit to determine species of origin?

Or was the shit somhow obviously from a human? Like some hiker dude regularly shits in bags and signs 'Rick's shit' on the bag before dropping it on the ground?

NoTraceTrails3 karma

Our best guess -these are handed out at the trailhead =https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/recreation/hiking/?cid=stelprd3820395

sugarhack0 karma


NoTraceTrails2 karma

I will be starting the hike alone, but quite a few people hike the PCT northbouth with ~ 50 hikers starting each day so I expect to be around fellow hikers especially at the beginning of the hike. I will not carry any weapons with me, I’m not sure about the laws around this in different protected areas, but I don’t anticipate needing a firearm for any reason. I will hike 10-20 miles each day. I willl have gear that is rated for colder nights and anticipate snow so will try to be as prepared as possible. I also have snow travell experience.

sugarhack-5 karma


NoTraceTrails6 karma

The homelessness crisis is a serious issue. Cities like LA are spending billions to try to help the homeless get back on their feet which gives me hope. I don’t anticipate that we will interact with many homeless people on the pacific crest trail but we will definitely keep it in mind for our study if we do.

Uaana-7 karma

Seriously? Why not a hike through India or Africa.. "Scientist" try activist. The US has done more in cleanup than the next 10 countries. Until you start bringing your little "shame" parties to China, India, Russia and Africa I don't want to hear it.

NoTraceTrails0 karma

Definitely not trying to shame anyone here. We think that the United States still has a trash problem that we can address using better data. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/26132/reckoning-with-the-us-role-in-global-ocean-plastic-waste