The humble banana is a cherished foodstuff amongst cyclists: each pocket ready yellow critter offers 25-30g of muscle fuelling carbohydrate, plus electrolytes lost in sweat (particularly potassium), all packaged up in its own handy wrapper. The best bit is, you can chuck that wrapper into a hedge, and do no harm.
Or, perhaps not.
Campaign groups have long been appealing to hikers to take their banana skins home, with one organisation – Real3Peaks Challenge – revealing that a single Ben Nevis collection earlier this month brought home four kilograms of skins.
Banana skins might seem to belong in nature as much as the grass and hedges that tend to form their final resting place, it transpires that they can do more harm than most people expect.
Up in the Scottish highlands, a banana skin could take as long as two years to decompose, in doing so damaging the ecology on the high tops at 1,345 metres.
Not many of us are cycling through the snow and ice up there – but conservationists say it’s not an issue riders in the lowlands can ignore.
“We’re on a species rich grass,” explains Andrew Wright, Countryside Manager at popular cycling haunt, Box Hill.
“We wouldn’t want any vegetative matter decomposing here. We don’t have a ‘banana skin problem’ at Box Hill, but if people did chuck them, it would locally enrich the soil, which increases the competition from more dominant species.
How to climb Box Hill
“If you were to throw farmyard manure on our chalk down soil, all the orchids and rare herbs would be choked out, because you’d get more dominant grasses taking over. Rare stuff is rare because it’s not very hardy, and grows only in certain environments. If you festoon the downland with banana skins, it would locally enrich it, and wouldn’t do the ecology any good.”
The Surrey Area of Natural Beauty is famous because of its unique qualities and biodiversity, but Wright is still anti the lobbing of banana skins, wherever you are.
“Outside of an area like ours, perhaps ecologically it’s maybe not so much of an issue. But I still disagree with that idea that it’s OK to just chuck stuff away. If you’ve managed to carry it that far, albeit wrapped around a banana, why not carry it home?”
A popular argument is that one banana skin decomposing in a hedge is better than one thousand in landfill, but Wright has an alternative suggestion.
“I’d argue that a banana skin is likely to be a small part of most people’s food waste. So, you’re either contributing all of that to landfill, or you have your own compost site. If you’ve got a compost site, take the skin home and dispose of it there.”
“Take responsibility for own litter. The old saying of ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints’, might be cheesy, but it holds true.”