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Leave no trace, dispose of hazardous waste: A responsible camper’s guide

Sun shines through evergreen trees onto a rocky riverbank

When we think of summer, we think of warm weather, traveling to new destinations, camping, hiking, and enjoying the sun. With these things in mind, it is important to have a “leave no trace” plan so that your trip is fun, safe, and enjoyable!

But what does “leave no trace” really mean?  Simply, it’s about being considerate of the environment and your community.  It means that you’re leaving no waste or trash, and you’re leaving a space just as it was before you arrived. This helps us ensure the environment is clean, safe, and available to access for years to come. 

King County has some of the most beautiful family-friendly trails and parks that are open and available to explore, and we all want to do our part to keep them that way.   
So as you plan your trip - whether that is camping, hiking, or biking - please consider these environmentally friendly tips from the Leave No Trace program:

Plan ahead and prepare

Prepare your items for the trip and the journey there. Pack light. Ensure that you have enough of what you need but not so much that you may need to leave something behind. Get familiar the rest stops along the way as well as the location, bathrooms, and trash bins for when you get there.  Allow enough time for travel, ensure that your vehicle has gas, oil, and supplies for the trip. When planning your meals consider using reusable items and reducing the use of plastics. 

Travel and camp on durable surfaces

If we’re not careful, we can have a damaging effect on the areas where we travel and camp. Use durable surfaces such as established trails, campsites, rock, gravel, and dry grasses or snow. Remember that good trails and campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary. 

Store and dispose of waste properly

Some situations call for using plastics or hazardous products depending on your festivities. If you must use plastics, consider recycling and sorting your waste. Here’s a link to some useful information about garbage and recycling in our region as you plan. 

Some popular outdoor and camping products may contain hazardous materials, including propane tanks, aerosol bug sprays and sunscreens, and lighter fluid. If you find that you’ve taken hazardous products along for your outdoor trip, bring them with you after your trip is over and dispose of them at a hazardous waste location once you’ve returned home. Hazardous waste products have keywords to look for such as DANGER, WARNING, OR CAUTION on the label. If you are not sure what items could be considered hazardous waste, the Haz Waste Program has a hazardous product library to help identify common household items that are accepted at Haz Waste collection sites.

Leave what you find

Leaving what you find in place helps preserve the ecosystem and the landscape’s unique features. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them. Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches. And while it’s great to observe cultural or historic structures and artifacts, be sure not to touch or disturb them. 

Minimize campfire impacts

Campfires can cause lasting impacts on the environment if not done properly. Keep fires small, and use established fire rings, pans, or mound fires where fires are permitted. Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes. And while it’s hard to beat a good campfire, always check whether a burn ban is in place before deciding to have one. 

Respect wildlife

Whenever you’re outdoors, you are in the natural habitat of many wild animals and should minimize your impact on them. Don’t follow or approach animals, and never feed them. Although they are cute and it may be tempting, feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Also, make sure to control any pets joining you for your trip at all times. 

Be considerate of others 

Being considerate of others ensures everyone can enjoy nature no matter how they interact with it. Respect others and protect the quality of their experience. 

The Hazardous Waste Management program’s mission is to help protect King County residents, businesses, and the region's environment from harmful chemical exposures. If you have questions about hazardous waste, give us a call at 206-296-4692 or email us at  

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