Florida’s award-winning parks attract about 32 million visitors a year. The vast majority of these guests are responsible and do respect the environment. They follow the ‘leave no trace’ rule of ‘pack it in and pack it out’, or at least they find a trash can to dispose of their litter.

Unfortunately, though, some people are not as considerate and they scatter their trash without regard for the damage it does to the environment or for the eyesore they are creating.

That is why a few good pickup lines come in handy when you see someone littering. For instance, “please pick up that cigarette butt–did you know it can take up to 12 years to decompose?” Or, “please pick up that plastic bottle–did you know it takes over 450 years to decompose?” We can all benefit from a refresher course in personal pollution solutions.

It is sobering to learn that every year we use approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil solely for producing plastic water bottles. Plastic waste is one type that takes far too long to decompose. Plastic bags that we use in our everyday life take up to 1,000 years to decompose. However, one bag I do urge all of you to carry in your pocket is one to use for picking up pieces of trash you find while out hiking or enjoying the countryside–and dispose of it responsibly!

Once in the water, plastic never fully biodegrades, but breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually being dubbed a “microplastic”—something that is less than 5mm long but can cause significant problems for marine life.  In the Pacific Ocean, there is one area of plastic waste debris that is twice the size of Texas and there are many others like it in the oceans of the world.

Even glass waste can be problematic. While glass is made basically from sand, it takes millions of years to decompose. The list goes on to include: monofilament fishing line – 600 years, disposable diapers – 250-500 years, plastic cups – 50 years, tin cans – 50 years, wool clothing – 1-5 years. And Styrofoam and foil never biodegrade!

Do you know that every minute, every day, more than 120,000 aluminum cans are recycled in the U.S.? But, at the same time, in every three-month period, enough aluminum cans are thrown away in America that could rebuild the entire American commercial aircraft fleet. Aluminum cans take 80-200 years in landfills to fully decompose, so please recycle them!  

Most, if not all parks have recycling bins and benefit from selling the cans for money that can be spent on projects in the park. Recycling is the foremost pollution solution, in conjunction with responsible and accountable trash disposal, in our parks and everywhere.


About the Author: Foundation Staff