Unfortunately in Australia some people decide that it is easier to dump their rubbish in national parks or state forests than take it to the tip. At the same time, visitors to these sites often cannot be bothered taking their own waste with them when they go. This means that local councils and state governments need to pay for rubbish removal, or risk leaving potentially hazardous material in the bush.

Dumping: In 2013, after a massive storm on the NSW north coast, the Office of Environment and Heritage needed to post a reminder that dumping in national parks is an offence under state law, because the practice had become so prevalent during the general clean up.

In some areas that are especially hard hit by illegal dumping local residents have taken the matter into their own hands, organising regular community clean ups. This has happened in Wellington National Park in south-west WA, where a group goes into the park twice a year for rubbish removal.

Illegal dumping in parks has the potential to introduce harmful toxins to the environment, especially if the toxins get into a waterway and spread beyond the initial dump site. Even seemingly innocent materials, like broken wooden furniture, can be toxic because of the treatments that have been used to preserve the wood.

Visitor waste: Casual visitors and campers also contribute to the problem of waste in national parks, through either disregard for the environment and other people who want to enjoy the park or ignorance of how to properly dispose of their waste (probably sometimes both).

Campers need to remember that campfires cannot take the place of rubbish bins, as foil does not burn and many plastics release toxic gases as they melt. Both campers and visitors need to remove their own rubbish when they leave (as well as make sure fires are completely out!).

The dumping and rubbish left behind in national parks and state forests isn’t just a problem because it spoils the natural beauty of the sites, or because it means someone else has to take responsibility for rubbish removal. The main problem is the environmental damage that can be caused.

Campers can, in complete innocence, also cause environmental damage. Detergents, shampoo, soap and toothpaste can all cause environmental problems if they get into waterways, such as killing fish and other wildlife. This means that campers and other visitors need to avoid using natural water sources for washing and cleaning.

General litter, which would seem to have the least environmental impact (beyond being a visual eyesore), can also be dangerous. Many plastics release toxins as they break down, as does the ink on foil wrappers. Clear glass and plastic bottles can also, under the right conditions, start fires.  If food is left lying around and is eaten by native animals it can make them sick.

So, to protect the environment as well as making national parks and state forests more pleasant places to visit, people need to be responsible for their own rubbish removal, as well as using designated tip sites for dumping waste.

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