On Saturday 12 January a motley group of 20 volunteers scaled Table Mountain via the Platteklip trail on yet another cleanup organized and coordinated by Love Our Trails.

Being one of the volunteers myself, I reflected on the weirdness of some of the objects I picked up. I wondered if others had had similar encounters. So we polled the group asking ‘what was the most random/gross/common item you picked up and this is the jury’s top 10:

10. Used toilet paper & tissues. This is probably one of the most common items found along a trail, just after water bottles. There is a widespread misconception that toilet paper is easily biodegradable. It can take 2-3 months for a tissue or paper towel to completely disintegrate. In the meantime, not much fun for other hikers and confusing for animals with a lot of different bodily smells to contend with. So in future, just go before the hike. Or if it’s an emergency, keep a bag with you for all your trash including your used tissues. Try to stick by the hiker’s rule: ‘what goes up, must come down’.

9. Banana peels. Did you know that banana skins can last over a month and orange peel can take up to 2 years to disintegrate? Also, it is important to remember we are guests in a nature reserve. Bringing in alien fruit remains is not healthy for an already fragile ecosystem. Just ask yourself in future: do I see any banana/peach/mango trees here? No? Then take it back with you.

8. Now we’re going to really dive into the disgusting and the surreal. Let’s start soft with a baby’s diaper. Yes, this happens. You can almost feel empathy though. I mean you’re on a hike with your little family and then… well Baby can’t really hold it in and you have to be a good parent so you’re down to creating a makeshift changing table under a tree off the trail. I feel for you, I really do. However, you have a baby, you know its going to poop. You decided to take it on a hike that will last anything from 2 to 4 hours. You make provisions. You bring something to put a used diaper in. Be smart!

7. Used condom. Yep. This is a thing. The thrill-seeking couples will invariably want to do the deed out in the open. Hey, we don’t want to stop you from enjoying your thriving sex life. But, for the love of all that is sacred, please, please, do not leave your used condom there. Believe me, someone will have to pick it up and no one is interested in your forensics. Just make a knot, put it back in the pack and TAKE IT HOME.

6. Sanitary pad (used). Ok, being a woman, I get that the struggle is real. However, I just cannot condone this. You’ll note that sanitary pads take 500 to 800 years to decompose. Just mull that over and think twice next time. Further than not littering, considering giving them up completely and opt for a more eco-friendly alternative such as the moon-cup. But this is a discussion for another place and time.

5. A pair of panties with skid-marks. I’m lost for words on this one. I feel for the volunteer who picked these up and actually had a good look, as this is the exact description that was given. Personally I would have thrown those panties in my trash-bag with my neck straining hard to look in the opposite direction because… ew.

4. A see-through bag (with a hole in it) containing a human number 2 and some happy maggots. Again, I’m quoting. I will simply not elaborate on this one. I am done with the disgusting. I just want to share one thought though: How did you know it was human?

3. Incontinence pad. I feel like giving this person a pass. If you are old or invalid enough to be taking this kind of failsafe measure, you are a hero for braving the mountain. Period.

2. A CD. So, this one is a bit flummoxing for me. For two reasons: A. why would you bring an extinct multimedia support with you on a hike and B. What did you play it on? This may be proof that time-travelers are real!

1. Four car windows. Now this one takes the cake for me. I struggle to see it. Who in their right mind would go through the trouble of dragging not one, not two, but all FOUR car windows alongside a nature trail to dump them there? This one, I simply cannot explain. I have to excuse myself. I’m out.

Before I go, I do sincerely want to thank our regular sponsors and helpers. Tuffy is always keen on giving us the materials we need for these cleanups. Obviously this cleanup was also made possible by K-way who not only brought Cape Union Mart and Buff on board with give-out prizes, but also showed up in person with several volunteers from the company. It’s always a pleasure to have them on board.

Whether we have a small or big group of volunteers, they are always engaged and committed, even if it’s not as easy as it seems. Many outdoors enthusiasts, on a regular hike, will pick up the trash they see on the way, and we commend them for it. However, most of the litter is to be found on the sides of the trails, in the bushes, between the rocks, in the streams. Some of our volunteers took over 4 hours to climb the route. Not because they are slow or unfit, but because they are dedicated and focused. One volunteer exclaimed after spotting a bottle cap under a thorny bush down a slope: ‘I just can’t un-see it now! I have to go get it’. Such is the passion of the people in this city who want to see our precious nature preserved.

We thank you.