Our Outdoors: Problems with Plastic

By Nick Simonson

I’ve come to despise plastic. I guess not all plastic, just the plastic that gets in the way of enjoying the outdoors and the aesthetics of being in places where plastic shouldn’t be. Like all things in this life, it’s a harsh duality and a battle of rationalization along a fine line at times.  That’s because plastic is so versatile, arguably the foundation of our current society, and probably a big part of a successful trip in the outdoors as well, whether fishing, hunting, hiking or camping.

Ultra-safe and environmentally friendlier modern cars, packaging that allows international damage free transport, life-saving medical equipment, fishing lures of all shapes, most lines used for angling, shotgun shells in every gauge, collars for tracking dogs, even the keys on which I type this column are all made of some form of plastic.  I guess that’s not the plastic I dislike.  I dislike the plastic that gets in the way of enjoying time away from any place that has a lot of plastic.  That plastic is the plastic I’m not a fan of.

It’s there on my walks through the seemingly open grass on the far side of the WMA, located dozens of miles away from town.  Wedged deep along the bases of brome and bluestem, a black snake of wrapping from some construction project a mile away, wound down into the vegetation by wind, rain and snow, becomes just another wad in my vest alongside a pheasant from earlier in the hike. It’s in the trail camera photos on my social media feed of the buck with a tangle of nylon in his antlers and the twist of discarded fishing line around the foot of the robin I freed so many years ago along the river that stands out in my memory.

Even yesterday, thousands of miles away from those encounters, the plastic I’m not a fan of was there, in spectacularly awful fashion.  Standing knee deep in the warm early autumn waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I brought in a ladyfish that had slammed my silver spoon and jumped across the calm surface, providing a show for me, and to my realization as I had it halfway in, about 100 beachgoers behind me watching the battle.  No pressure there with the audience observing my every bow of the rod and turn against the fish, but I was able to bring it to hand without disappointing the crowd.  As I lifted the fish up and showed off the large mouth and golden oversized eye to my youngest son who had waded up to join me, his gaze shifted up into the sky beyond it and he pointed over my shoulder and said: “what’s that!?” 

Like an unwelcome kite on the north wind, a plastic shopping bag floated over the roof of the condominium and out above the water, staying aloft on the breeze until it drifted out of view into the dark stretches of blue, where just a few minutes before, dolphins busted on balls of surface baitfish to the excitement of everyone in the beach chairs at the water’s edge.  I wondered where it would end up; wrapped around one of the dolphins’ beaks, in the belly of some predator fish mistaking it for food, or perhaps on the shore tomorrow morning, just in time for my beach walk?  I wondered how many others would join it that day and every day that comes after.

There’s no getting away from plastic, and begrudgingly, plastic is an important part of everyday life and even adventure in the outdoors. From the bags that haul groceries, to the bags that contain life-saving medicines, to the bags that keep our bass plastics organized, it is convenient and necessary and sometimes both. But if you don’t like seeing plastic in the places it shouldn’t be, there are ways of keeping it where it is supposed to be. 

Utilize a water bottle and avoid single-use plastic bottles or reuse a single-use plastic bottle multiple times, when faced with no other choice.  I have two that I have had for more than a year in my workout room, and one in my hunting vest for the dog. Even last week while traveling for work, I used the same 16.9-ounce water bottle I was provided upon my arrival a few dozen times to stay hydrated.  Opt for reusable grocery bags or paper ones that can be recycled easier or utilized for craft projects or even as kindling to help start your next bonfire. There are hundreds of other paths around using those easily-discardable plastic items to help limit their presence in our day-to-day world and prevent them from making their way into those outdoor spaces where they shouldn’t be.

The easiest way, however, is to simply pick it up and put it where it belongs.  Whether it’s our spent shotgun shells, the scrap line cut off the spool of our fishing reels, or the half twister tail left on our hooks from the strike of a northern pike, making certain those items get to the garbage bin or the recycler keeps them from lingering in the outdoors where they can harm wildlife or at the very least, just make things look unpleasant.  Grab and stash those plastic items that do make their way into the outdoors and put them in the trash or recycler at home. There’s more than enough to go around, and unfortunately now, it isn’t hard to pick up two extra pieces of trash along with our own discardable materials generated on every trip.

Regardless of whether I love it, hate it, or feel both ways depending on the situation and the need in the moment, plastic is part of our world for worse and for better.  But that doesn’t mean it has to be a prevalent part of the experience when hunting, fishing or just being outside and making that the case comes down to each of us doing our part in keeping it out of the places we like to be…in our outdoors.

Featured Photo: Leave Only Footprints. Plastic accumulates everywhere, from our fields to our oceans, and much of it likely will not breakdown in our lifetimes, impacting the health of wildlife and the aesthetics of our outdoors. Simonson Photo.

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