IDEAS For Us | April 28, 2016

Ready, Set, Litter!

Let’s play a game.

I’ve buried a plastic container in a local park. To find it, you’ll have to follow the clues I’ve left. Inside is a prize along with a running list of everyone else who’s found it. If you discover my little makeshift prize box, you can take the reward or leave behind a trinket of your own. But please, don’t ruin the secret by telling others where it is.

And even if it looks like trash, DO NOT throw it away!

Geocaching is awesome. I’ve done it a handful of times and it’s definitely a fun outdoor activity that can present an exciting challenge. With the website boasting millions of treasures hidden worldwide, there’s a good chance that you’re not too far from a Geocache right now. But the other night, as I drove by a nondescript spot that I knew held one of these secret gems, I had to wonder: isn’t Geocaching just sanctioned littering?

Essentially, it’s a hunt for an item that has been left in a place it does not belong. A Where’s Waldo? of knickknacks that people do not mind parting with, bringing a new spin to the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. So what exactly is a Geocache: trash or treasure?

On one hand, the game encourages others to hide a Geocache anywhere in the world. In a way, it’s kind of like that candy wrapper you find wedged between movie theatre seats or that plastic bag that’s spent the last three weeks tangled up in a tree branch. These foreign objects are stashed inconspicuously in locations that were never meant to house such an item. Geocaching is effectively littering.

But is it really littering? The company insists that each potential Geocache gets approval from the powers that be (park officials, land owners, etc.) and if it was a serious problem, surely a cleanup crew could easily lookup each individual item’s coordinates and remove them. In the most extreme case, one could even take the names listed in the log books sometimes included in the cache and report them to the authorities. Does anyone feel that strongly though?

Is Geocaching acceptable? It is clandestine trash dumping in the name of fun with the utmost importance placed on not removing these materials from their resting place. However, just because the cache has “value” doesn’t mean it’s not trash. An aluminum can left on a park bench has value but it’s still considered garbage. Why is my hidden container any different than the smashed cans sitting along the tree line of any given roadside?

Is this activity contributing to the tons of garbage scattered across our land and seas? Is it a harmless game that presents no other problem than a fun puzzle and a reward for the cunning adventurer? Is it a lack of concern for the environment akin to flicking a cigarette butt into a street gutter?  Or could this activity be turned into a call to action, inspiring Geocachers to collect discarded junk while on their hunt for treasure and perhaps create a new adage: take only trash; leave only ‘cache.