While teaching the Exploring the Desert workshop for Art Toolkit on Saturday I started thinking about the snacks I like to take hiking (lol!) and then that got me to thinking about all the times I’ve picked up “organic” trash out on the trail. I’ve often wondered how long this type of trash takes to decompose.

Pistachios, orange peels, and a banana on Canson Montval paper. Art Toolkit pocket palette filled with the Daniel Smith Essentials set of 6 colors.

I did some research and discovered that these take longer to decompose than I thought:

  • Banana peels take 6 months. I couldn’t find any stats specifically on the desert, but I’ve found desiccated black peels that are super hard! One time we picked up a partially eaten banana that someone tossed under a juniper.
  • Orange peels take 2 years. Their waxy coating makes them take even longer to decompose in arid climates. Bugs don’t eat them since citrus oil is a natural insecticide.
  • Pistachio and sunflower shells take 3 years! Sunflower shells also have a substance that acts as a plant growth inhibitor (picture the area under bird feeders) and salt can attract critters.

Oh my!

Jason and I always pick up trash while we’re out hiking (Jason picks up more than me!) and I’ll never look at these kinds of things the same way again. The bottom line is Leave No Trace — pack it out.

Thanks for reading my little rant! My next post will have a list of my favorite hiking snacks. :)

Categories: PSA


Bob Cochran · March 28, 2022 at 5:38 pm

Hi Lisa, I am an older person who likes to bicycle around the area. Although I live in an urban environment, the nearby Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, with its miles of roads and planted fields, offers a thin coating of “countryside” feeling. I can say that no matter where I bicycle, trash is everywhere. That includes organic trash like bananas and thrown away food. I myself am guilty of throwing banana peels and apple cores into fields thinking they would just decompose. I think I need to change and pack out all my trash, organics included. I can give the organic stuff away to a neighbor who does hot composting.

My compliments on leading an excellent class.

    Lisa Spangler · April 3, 2022 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Bob! Thanks again on the class! It was so fun exploring the desert with everyone. When I wrote the post I was mainly thinking of hiking trails and parks, didn’t think about fields. I wonder if it would decompose there and turn into compost or if wildlife would eat it?

      Bob Cochran · April 3, 2022 at 6:15 pm

      Hi Lisa, I’m not sure what happens with organic trash tossed into fields. I will guess that insects and birds will eat apples, maybe even banana peels, but I do not know what really happens. We have hiking trails around here too, but they are not extensive…except the Appalachian Trail which is quite far to my west.

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