'Organic litter' still has an impact on the ecosystem.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated July 23, 2019

I admit it: I often throw my banana peels on the ground. My first reason is that if someone slipped on it, that would be hilarious. It’s like the most classic joke ever! But my second reason — I thought — was that a banana is just fruit, so its peel will decompose without any problems. No harm, no foul. Turns out I was wrong — especially if I ever plan to go hiking the mountains of Great Britain.

As The Telegraph reported last week, climbers throughout the U.K. are being told to stop it with all the “organic litter” — seemingly harmless items like orange and banana peels — because, much like a refrigerator will slow down the decomposition of fruit, the cold conditions atop a mountain like Scotland’s Ben Nevis — the highest peak in Great Britain — can preserve peels for a surprisingly long time. “The cold weather is the issue: The break down process is far slower and takes up to two years. Some portions of the mountain are sub-zero all year round where the sun doesn’t reach, it's pretty much a subarctic climate,” a spokesperson for the U.K wild land charity the John Muir trust told the paper. “It varies from year to year but in some parts for most of the year it's like being frozen.” The previous week alone, a group of litter pickers found over 17 pounds of banana skins on the mountain.

For those of you (okay, maybe “us”) thinking, Well, I’m not hiking a freezing cold Scottish mountain, so I’m sure it’s okay if I toss my banana peel wherever I want, the Snowdonia National Park Authority in Wales disagrees. They explain that even when organic litter does decompose, it can mess with the soil, and the pure amount of all those peels alter the national environment in general. As such, they have a very simple rule of thumb. “It’s unfortunate that people don’t equate litter with organic litter. They think it's acceptable but obviously it's not, even in the countryside,” Peter Rutherford, access officer for the authority, told The Telegraph. “Our advice is that whatever goes up should go down.”

Credit: emiphoto/Getty Images

Ostensibly, the permanently snow-capped peaks of mountain ranges in the Western United States and on other continents would have similarly unfavorable conditions for decomposition and, by the Snowdonia people's standard, it's not a good idea to drop a peel in any forest that doesn't already have bananas growing in it (even if it isn't in Wales). And let’s be honest: No one ever actually slips on a banana peel in real life anyway, so it’s not like you’re missing out on any comedy.