The State of Our Trails (SoOT) Report: understanding and responding to single-use pollution (SUP) in recreational trail ecosystems through citizen science

Dom Ferris (GB), Trash Free Trails HQ (GB)


Up to 23 times more plastic pollution escapes into terrestrial ecosystems than oceans.

Our SoOT Report aims to replicate the ‘Blue Planet’ effect for terrestrial ecosystems. We aim to understand the causes, prevalence, composition and impacts of SUP on recreational trails and their users.

Since July 2020, our citizen scientists have removed and recorded over 230,000 items of SUP and submitted over 700 data sets. Here’s what we found.


We conducted a meta-analysis to understand ‘littering behaviour’. Initial themes that have emerged include: disconnection, disgust, control (or lack thereof), and social proof.


To establish SUP prevalence we carried out ‘Trash Counts’. Citizen scientists counted SUP items on 5,030kms of trails at 350 locations. There was an average of 42 items per km;  a trail user may encounter an item of SUP every 24m.


To establish SUP composition we carried out ‘Trash Surveys’. 81% of all items encountered on trails were single use products. 10% of items wouldn’t exist if we had a Deposit Return Scheme.


To investigate ecological impact, we established monitoring sites in 6 forest locations, over 9 months, with 790 hours of fieldwork and analysis.

We estimate that 1,891 acres of flora is being choked by SUP in the UK. 32% of submissions reported animal interaction and 21% reported animal death.

Qualitative data suggests that SUP negatively impacts individuals’ experiences of nature. But trail cleans affect volunteers positively: 90% reported increased pride and felt more connected to nature, and 99% would take part again.

Thanks and next steps

This research was made possible thanks to 4,250 citizen scientists and our academic and corporate partners. The SoOT report launch reached 208,517 people, and over 3,000 people have visited its webpage. In aligning our work with the Global Plastic Treaty and the United Nations’ SDGs this lays the ground for further research across Europe.

Contributing Consultants

Tom Hill (GB) Copywriting

Rebecca Kaye (GB) Data visualisation

Dr Martyn Kurr (GB) Academic oversight

Dr Em Pope (GB) Nature Connection oversight


Supporting Partners

Bosch eBike Systems

The North Face & The European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA)

Trek Bikes UK


Red Bull


Bangor University

Dom Ferris (UK) is the founder and CEO of Trash Free Trails. As a lifelong mountain biker working at Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), Dom was struck by the deafening silence on the issue of single-use pollution on trail ecosystems, versus the growing concern for ocean plastic pollution. In 2017 he started an Instagram account, and from there Trash Free Trails blossomed into the international community of runners, riders and roamers seeking to protect what they love, it is today.

Trash Free Trails HQ (UK)

We are a ‘smallnormous’ organisation, who aim to catalyse enormously positive impact by creating projects that inspire, inform and equip people to take action.

As such, we don't have a HQ. What we do have is a group of people who combine their love for our wild places with perfectly aligned academic qualifications. Such as Rich, with an MSc in Psychology of Mental Health from The University of Edinburgh. And Rach, with an MSc in Movement, Mind & Ecology from Schumacher College. Or PJ, a Bangor University work placement student, who leads our Citizen Science training programme.

The Sustainable Trails Initiative focuses on reducing single-use pollution (SUP) on UK recreational trails. Its impact lies in comprehensive research, utilising over 700 datasets and engaging 4,250 citizen scientists. The initiative's SoOT Report delves into SUP causes, prevalence, composition, and impacts, shedding light on a critical environmental issue. This initiative empowers community involvement and aligns efforts with global plastic treaties. The project's tangible impact includes the removal of over 200,000 SUP items and increased nature connection among participants.