Despite these stated environmental concerns there is often a juxtaposition in our revealed behaviour, myself included.
Now far from intending to bore you with the platitudes of my naval gazing, I think that my anecdotal ‘green audit’ has some value. Firstly, we normally all agree that initiating newcomers into outdoor lifestyles is pressingly important in our ever increasingly nature-disconnected lifestyles. Furthermore, the assumption is that if people develop an interest in the outdoors the spinoff will naturally be a concern for conservation and the environment. For the most part I strongly agree with this postulate but am sceptical of any claims to an unquestionable, minimized environmental footprint from this consciousness.
hunting, considered ‘consumptive’ of the environment (and nothing short of an environmental crime by some who espouse green-living ideals).
I will touch on three areas of comparison and perhaps it will motivate you to reflect, if you already haven’t, on these issues . An important caveat: I am not out to sully the sports or lifestyle of anyone or any activity. This is simply an open and critical admission based on my reality and observations. Both kayaking and hunting have been central to my life and ideology for a long time. The lessons they have taught me are invaluable and the places and people they have introduced me to have often been life changing.
1) Materials: I have a veritable heap of duffel bags filled with years worth of river gear. Between the boats, paddles, dry gear, base layers and rescue equipment is a bewildering array of not-too-friendly-to-the-environment materials. Polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, fibreglass, carbon fibre, resins, epoxy’s, foams, acrylics, polyurethane, volatile organic compounds and so on. My breathable dry gear contains PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) which requires toxic PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) to produce it. Simply put, a plethora of synthetics that may be toxic to produce at some point, may take centuries to degrade and may cause a host of problems when discarded.
My hunting gear certainly contains some synthetics but not nearly as much. Most of my equipment is also bound to last a very, very long time (see point 2).
To be fair there has been an acknowledgement of this materials problem and steps to mitigate its impact. Innovation of non-toxic synthetics, experimental Sphingomonas bacterial plastic decomposition and the use of naturals seem to have grown in popularity. Replacing old smelly polypropylene base layers with wool is now commonplace as is, for example, reverting to wood in place of carbon or glass fibre parts (e.g. paddles). However, we must be thorough in our evaluation of synthetics vs. naturals and be aware of the materials life cycle and overall footprint before proclaiming naturals to be vastly superior. The reason for this is that opportunities to recycle old outdoor gear are now more available (but shipping large gear to recycling collection point still remains a challenge). From meager research it appears that many recycled synthetics are not as bad as I thought (and help keep those useless little water bottles out of the pacific gyr). Fleece is apparently not the environmental pariah some think it is, especially when made from said plastic bottles. However the reality, at least to me, appears to be that outside of small soft items deposited into in-store drop boxes, much outdoor gear remains un-recycled when defunct, living in the large synthetic heaps we begin to accumulate. Or it is sent into the garbage. We need some commitment to longevity and recycling; which brings me to my next point.
2) Longevity and replacement fads: Lets face it, as outdoors sports people many of us are gear-heads. This year’s playboat, snowboard or bike; we love to replace our gear with the new models, while telling ourselves this is the ONE, the design I have finally been waiting for, the last one I’ll ever need…until next spring that is! Amongst hunters there certainly is a segment that seems to chase new gear, new camo patterns, new packs etc. but for the most part replacements don’t appear nearly as frequent. Some archers perhaps tend more towards ‘gear-headism’ as the technology moves rapidly within that discipline but a well-cared for bow will do its operators bidding for many years.
A lot of hunting gear also lasts for many years. I have used rifles well over a half a century old that could still do another 50 years. Optics of decent quality can easily see you through 20 plus years in the field. I am not sure when last I saw a 10 year old kayak on the river and how many 20 year old skis do you see on the hill?
Granted, many outdoors people do care for and use their gear, like packs and tents, for many years but the institution of high frequency cyclical consumption is deeply entrenched in our ‘eco’ outdoor sports. Hunting exists in the same market structures but in my experience the replacement rates due to wear and tear, as well as market trends, tends to be much slower. I have owned and replaced far more pieces of river gear than hunting gear per unit of equivalent time, some of it worn out, a good deal of it simply wilfully phased out in favour of newer and better.
It’s unfortunate that I often hear how hunters are not environmentally concerned (disputed by this recent article). This accusation has on many occasions stemmed from someone in the outdoor sport community who would readily proclaim their eco-consciousness. While most of my closest friendships have been borne from time shared with my outdoor sport companions in the bush or on the water, I am not afraid to offer this critique. Self-reflection, honest critique and informed discussion are the corner stones are broadening our knowledge. From my perspective I would have an awfully tough time trying to convince myself that my ‘consumptive’ hunting has a greater environmental impact than my great love of kayaking.
Plastic Purge: The Great Plasticky Outdoors
© Brian Joubert