Don't Toss Apple Cores and Banana Peels on the Ground

You may have learned that natural foods decompose in nature; Glacier National Park reminds us why it's a bad idea.

Apple core sitting in wet dirt next to grass

David Tran / Getty Images

Quiz time: You have just finished eating an apple while on a hike. You are on a trail without trash receptacles, what do you do with the apple core?

If you answered "toss it in the bushes" because you always thought fruit remnants are biodegradable and harmless, prepare for a slowly nodding "ahhh" moment.

Decomposition Takes Time

According to the folks at Glacier National Park, the decomposition of fruit litter takes much longer than you probably imagine; and in the meantime, it presents other problems. In a Facebook post titled, "Myth Busters Banana Peel and Apple Core Edition!" the park tackles the myth of "I can toss my banana peels, apple cores, and other ‘natural’ foods on the ground because they’ll decompose."

The verdict? Busted.

They write:

"These ‘natural’ food items will not decompose quickly. If animals don’t eat the food waste, decomposition will likely take much longer than you expect. Some fruit products can take years to decompose depending on the environment they are in!"

The Problems With Animals Eating Food Trash

They explain that when animals eat food trash, habituation increases. For instance, food thrown out of a car window can inspire animals to start searching roadsides for treats, upping the chances of being hit. by a car. And consider this, small rodents on the side of the road attract owls and other raptors, "Collisions with vehicles are believed to be among the top five direct causes of bird mortality in the United States," notes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There is also the basic problem of introducing the wrong kind of food to animals, and the local ecosystem. For example, the park notes:

"‘Natural’ food items are also usually not so natural. Apples, bananas, oranges, etc are not native to Glacier National Park. If eaten by wildlife it will likely not digest well since these animals are not accustomed to these foods. Fruit and vegetable seeds that end up on the ground could result in a non-native plant growth."

And then, of course, there is a simple fact that nobody wants to see somebody else's rotting fruit litter while enjoying the great outdoors.

"This myth is common and if you have tossed food waste onto the ground, take a mental note to pack it out next time," the Park concludes. "If you see a friend try to toss food waste, let them know at least one of these reasons why they should pack it out instead!"

It may be hard enough to get people not to litter with plastic wrappers and water bottles, let alone a banana peel; but even so, this serves as a good public service announcement. For those of us usually good with our trash – and who may not have known that fruit litter could be a problem – mission accomplished. In the words of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, no litter is safe litter ... not even an apple core.