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Source: Department of Conservation

What may seem like a harmless action could be negatively impacting our native species.

You may be (unknowingly) contributing to our litter problem on public conservation land, simply because you’ve been told a sneaky lie.

This lie has passed down generations, without us taking much notice.

Parents tell their children that it’s okay, because “it’s biodegradable.”

And their parents said the same to them, for no other reason than we’ve just always believed it to be true.

Friends encourage friends to make the mistake – it “will help wildlife” or “be good for the soil.” It’s a lie not just told in New Zealand, but all around the world. It’s a lie that as tidy Kiwis, we shouldn’t stand for.

We’re talking about the lie of discarding organic waste, like apple cores, banana peels and any other food items, in nature is harmless or even good for the environment.

For so long, you may have believed that throwing an apple core into nature was the right thing to do. Seems plausible, huh?

The harsh reality: food scraps can take years to break down in some areas and they feed predators like rats, stoats and mice.

Let’s bust the myths that make up the apple core lie.

Apple core in the Mangatepopo Valley, beside the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track | Photo: Julia Wells

Myth #1: Organic waste breaks down quickly in nature.

“Organic waste, or green waste, is organic material such as food, garden and lawn clippings. It can also include animal and plant based material and degradable carbon such as paper, cardboard and timber.”
Environment Victoria

Not all environments are created equal when it comes to waste breakdown. In general, an apple core takes about 2 months to break down in normal conditions. In alpine conditions, this can take years depending on the environmental conditions.

Even though these items break down quicker than plastic or glass, they still stay in nature for some time.

With this in mind: In popular sites, for example the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, if everyone leaves behind an apple core, that’s 300,000 apple cores left in nature.

This is why it’s so important to take your litter with you. Organic waste is waste; it harms our environment, our soil, our waterways and our wildlife.

Photo: Sabine Bernert

Myth #2: It’s a natural food source for wildlife.

When you feed our native wildlife, either directly or indirectly, you are disrupting their diets and changing their social behaviour.

In an episode of the Sounds of Science podcast, DOC vet Kate McInnes shares why your food scraps aren’t as appealing to wild birds as you may have been led to believe. Mainly because they lurk around, looking like they do, indeed, need the food.

Kate shares an example from the Kaka Cam – when fed just corn (which they love), the chicks will get a calcium-phosphorus imbalance.

“Their bones won’t grow properly. They’ll get bent beaks. They’ll get weak bones. And they’ll actually get broken bones.”

Even nuts can cause harm to a kaka’s diet. Kate compares nuts as “chippys and ice cream” to the kaka diet.

If kaka are eating nuts all day, they’re going to experience the obesity problems that comes with eating chips and ice cream all day.

Feeding can even change the natural behaviour of birds in the wild. They congregate in different ways and can contract disease a lot easier; this can cause stress in less dominant birds, and also more dominant birds who fight to gain access to the introduced food source.

Tongariro Crossing Track | Photo: Julia Wells

Myth #3: One apple core won’t hurt the environment.

It’s just an apple core, right? An apple core that can unnecessarily attract rats, mice, stoats and ferrets to precious areas on conservation land, where our most endangered native species live. By feeding introduced predators (yes, even that apple core you hid off the track), you are actively threatening the survival of New Zealand’s unique biodiversity.

What may seem harmless, can actually be halting our progress to a Predator Free New Zealand in 2050: the purpose is to preserve threatened species, improve our biodiversity, create greater ecological resilience and restore our unique ecosystems.

Chucking your apple core into nature, it’s in direct opposition to PF2050. Take it with you and help protect New Zealand’s native species.

Apple left in nature

Love This Place

This summer, we’re asking visitors to public conservation land to ‘Love This Place’ – a nationwide effort to engage domestic and international tourists to behave responsibly while travelling Aotearoa.

Many New Zealanders are unaware of the harm organic waste can do to our wildlife when left out in nature. Take your litter with you, even apple cores and banana peels.

What you can do when out in nature:

  • Show you love this place by always being prepared to carry your litter away with you.
  • There are no rubbish bins in the bush, so pack prepared
  • Remove as much packaging as possible, so you don’t have to carry it out again
  • Pack your food and supplies into reusable containers
  • Take a bag or container to store your rubbish
  • A leak-proof, air-tight container (e.g. an ice-cream container) is ideal