As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact on everyday life, the general public has begun to explore different forms of entertainment. In particular, the popularity of hiking has soared to an all-time high in Hong Kong – but so have the volumes of rubbish left behind. The 2021 “Hong Kong Countryside Rubbish Survey”, conducted by Green Power, indicated that with visits to the countryside continuing to increase during the pandemic, concerns have grown regarding the impact on the environment, with people leaving large amounts of garbage such as plastic bottles, plastic bags and disposable tableware on trails. Some of this discarded food and packaging may be ingested by animals, putting their health in danger.

The survey also found that more than 60% of respondents generated an average of 2.5 pieces of plastic waste during each visit. Among the types of waste discarded on trails, tissue paper was the most common (68%), followed by food packaging (61%), and then plastic bags and disinfectant wipes (48%). On average, each visitor produced one to two pieces of such rubbish during each outing.

One positive note is that more than half of respondents said they would take away their own rubbish at the end of the trips, and that figure has been increasing over recent years. Remember not to throw rubbish on trails as it not only spoils the natural beauty but also increases the workload of cleaners – please leave no trace of your presence when hiking and camping!

The concept of “Leave No Trace” originated in the US in the 1960s and 70s when more people took up outdoor hobbies such as hiking, trail trekking and camping. The increase of countryside visits led to growing disturbance of the natural environment. Not only were local environments and wildlife habitats disturbed, but heritage sites were also damaged to different extents. The “Leave No Trace” campaign was officially launched in the 1980s to educate the public on the value of showing respect to nature and promote the minimization of the negative impacts of leisure activities on natural habitats. The seven principles of “Leave No Trace” are as follows:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Planning ahead for your hike may seem obvious, yet many hikers skip this step. Always check the regulations and features of the places you will be visiting. Check the weather forecast and equip yourself accordingly. Take the minimum amount of packaging to minimize waste, and try to avoid peak times when visiting certain trails.

Whatever You Carry, Bring It Back

Everyone has the responsibility to take away their own rubbish, and people should not take others’ help for granted. Most rubbish bins have been removed from country parks now; even if there are rubbish bins they are handled by cleaners and hikers who volunteer to clean up trails during their hike. Hikers should take their own trash with them when they go hiking, which helps to reduce environmental pollution and also lessens the burden on cleaners. It is also suggested to prepare an appropriate amount of food to prevent food waste, and to repack unused food to help reduce the garbage left behind.

Minimize Fire Impacts

Use only a small camping stove and always check if fires are permitted. Fires are only allowed in official barbecue site and campsites. Only light a small fire and always disperse the cold ashes after putting out the fire.

Use Durable Surfaces

It’s always tempting to go “off-piste” and walk where no one has walked before. But that can alter the beauty of virgin territory, so it is highly recommended to use established trails. It is also recommended to set up your basecamp in one of the 41 designated campsites in Hong Kong country parks authorized by the Agricultural Fisheries and Conservation Department – beaches and barbecue sites are not a good choice for camping.

Leave What You Find

When you find beautiful flowers on the trail, only touch them with your eyes. The same goes for human constructions; always help to preserve our heritage.

Respect Wildlife

Always keep a safe distance from wildlife. Never feed animals of any kind because it alters their behavioural patterns and their ability to survive independently, putting them at risk from predators. Store your food properly to avoid attracting animals and losing your food supply.

Be Considerate to Other Visitors

Always show consideration to other hikers and make everyone’s walk more enjoyable. Enjoy the sounds of nature and keep your volume down.

Remember to take ALL your trash away and don’t leave anything behind after hiking or camping. You may think that some of your rubbish will decompose, but actually it could increase the burden on the natural surroundings.

Tissue paper will decompose naturally. Is that correct?

It’s only partly correct. An experiment conducted overseas demonstrated that tissue paper will not start decomposing until it rains – and the speed of decomposition varies according to the size and thickness of the tissue paper. That means a wad of tissue paper left in our beautiful countryside could take a few months – and as long as a few years – to decompose entirely.

I can throw fruit peel on the hill as fertilizer, right?

Although fruit peel is organic matter that can decompose naturally, this works only under a favourable temperature and environment. Microorganisms help decompose organic matter, so if you leave a banana skin in a high-temperature forest then microorganisms will help it decompose easily. However, if you just leave your banana peel on the ground, it will have a very long lifespan.

Can I leave fruit seeds on hills to add to the diversity of plants?

Seeds are generally harder than fruit peel and in fact are more difficult to decompose. Even if the seeds left on hills can successfully germinate and grow, this may disrupt the ecological balance in that area. Species that did not exist originally may begin to occupy the space and use all the nutrients over time. As a result, the local ecosystem will be affected with a food chain created that interferes with nature.

Think Before You Litter