Jackson Groves has spent the last two-and-a-half years living out of a backpack. During that time, he’s encountered the litter that unfortunately finds its way into nature parks and hiking trails in all corners of the globe. Like most people, he kept on traveling without giving it much thought. What could he do to change it? — This was something that came with the territory of popular tourist destinations.
Recently, the Australian landed in Panama, a small country in Central America known for its rainforests, waterfalls, and coastal landscapes. As with his previous destinations, Jackson noticed an abundance of trash and waste in the areas of Panama he explored. But this time, he decided to do something about it. Now, when he treks out into the wilderness, he doesn’t ignore the trash; he picks it up. And other travelers are following his lead. We decided to ask Jackson some questions about his new initiative, the Adventure Bag Movement. Here’s what he had to say.
How did the Adventure Bag Movement start?
I found myself solo hiking a lot in Panama. Day after day, I would hike through jungles to different summits in search of beautiful views and waterfalls, which gave me a lot of time to think. During this alone time, I witnessed a lot of trash on the trails and also in the towns I stayed in. As someone who travels as much as I do, I decided that I needed to make a difference. I wasn’t directly contributing to the litter, but I wasn’t doing anything to help the situation either. I knew about the issue of plastic and pollution, but I never got around to acting on it. I think many of us can identify with that. We aren’t doing anything wrong, but we don’t think to help.
Eventually, I came up with the idea that I would take a small bag with me on my hikes; after I had reached the summit and enjoyed the view, I would collect trash from the trail on the way back down. I gave it the name “Adventure Bag,” and on every adventure or hike I would continue to collect one bag of garbage. As a tourist, it’s often hard to give something back to the place you visit, but this is a little way to contribute.
How did you garner traction around your new idea?
I started talking about it and sharing pictures of my Adventure Bags on Instagram. Some of my followers liked the idea and began collecting their own. When I saw this, I shared the pictures of the Adventure Bags others were collecting, and all of a sudden we were a small army. People were being inspired by this little action.
I had a second Instagram account that I used for posting my favorite travel photos of other photographers. I decided to change it to @adventurebagcrew to showcase those who were part of the initiative with hopes of reaching a wider audience and inspiring more travelers.
My latest effort was organizing two Adventure Bag Adventure Days in Panama. Over 100 people showed up for the El Valle de Anton adventure day. We did two hikes, conducted a presentation, and collected almost 50 bags of trash. The second get-together was in Panama City. After hiking Cerro Ancon, 70 of us collected more than 100 bags of trash!
Why do you think a movement like this is important?
Traveling is only becoming more and more popular, and many locations around the world are struggling to balance tourism and sustainability. Travelers create a large amount of waste wherever they go, but in Panama, for example, most of it still comes from the local population. There are a number of factors contributing to this, but as a traveler, it is difficult to make any long-term impact when you only stay for a few days. Collecting an Adventure Bag is a chance to lead by example. People are watching. Both locals and those on social media are taking note. This movement provides a temporary tactic to stop the flow of litter while also aiming to inspire a long-term shift in attitude from both tourists and local populations about plastic pollution and the negative impact it has on our environment.
When you were reflecting on your travels and coming up with this idea, what were some of the hard questions you were asking yourself?
I decided I needed to do better, to be better. How could I do more? Just because I wasn’t littering didn’t mean I was helping the problem. I was actively ignoring it out of convenience.
When I stopped and asked myself some tough questions — How can I help the plastic pollution problem? What am I doing now? Why am I not already helping in some way? What do I want to stand for? — I knew there were opportunities to help.
What did you learn about yourself by doing this?
What I learned very quickly was that there are tons of people in the same boat as me, constantly traveling to different countries and cultures, but not necessarily contributing to these places in a positive way. We aren’t bad people, but we aren’t doing anything to help. We need a bit of a kick in the butt to get going. And once we do, watch out, because we are passionate and will continue to push this project to as many people as possible.
Did starting the Adventure Bag Movement change the way you traveled in Panama?
It hasn’t changed the way I travel other than, obviously, collecting trash on my adventures. The organized clean-ups have allowed me to meet more locals, which has been one of the best parts. When locals respect what you are doing, they accept you more quickly, and I found myself welcomed in Panama thanks to this movement. Panamenos know they have a trash problem, and this was a way for some of them to come together in a combined effort and start making a difference. I was stoked to be accepted into their communities and to join local explorers on various trips.
What’s been the biggest reward of this project so far?
The most rewarding part of the Adventure Bag Movement has been the overwhelming positive response from others. We hear so many negative stories in the media these days. However, when you look at our Instagram feed, you will see Adventure Bags being collected by men, women, and children. You will see people from different cultures who have different skin colors. Bags have been collected in Iraq, Switzerland, Indonesia, and Japan, among others. This movement is bringing everyone together for a common cause. At the root of it all, we are proving that this is a global issue, and we are a collective that cares and is willing to do something about it.
What do you hope to ultimately accomplish with this movement?
The ultimate goal is to improve the current status of our environment. I’m calling on all adventurers, travelers, and explorers to do their part to help and get involved t. The Adventure Bag movement, in a worldly sense, is still unknown. But there is no barrier to entry and I invite everyone to join. This movement is about inspiring and mobilizing as many people as possible to do better!
I will keep working to spread this message and this movement around the world. We need a global shift in attitude, and it starts with us! The question to ask yourself is: If not you, then who?
Feeling inspired by Jackson’s story? Next time you head out on an adventure, whether in your hometown or a new country, bring a small bag along to fill with trash. When it’s full, snap a photo and tag @adventurebagcrew to join the movement!