Animal-Proof Your Trash
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Animal-Proof Your Trash

 Photo by DCrane Photography / Adobe Stock.


Q: Lately, we have noticed that bears are treating our trash bin like it's the local pub and grub. We have a very small cabin, so storing the garbage indoors is not an option. Is there anything else we can do to deter the bears? – Gloria, via email

A: If you have animals like bears and raccoons getting into your trash, that's a real problem. Animals tend to be indiscriminate eaters, so chances are they'll ingest something they shouldn't and compromise their own health.

But it's not just the ecosystem you should be worried about. Some states and municipalities will fine homeowners who attract wildlife with their unattended garbage. Additionally, bears roaming around cabin country can be unpredictable, and raccoons and vermin may decide to take up residence inside your retreat. And cleaning up after these opportunistic critters is sure to put a dent in your precious R & R time at the cabin.


Bear-Resistant Containers

The best thing you can do to discourage animals from raiding your trash is to store all garbage indoors or inside a secure building, like a reinforced shed. If this isn't an option for you, consider investing in bear-resistant trash containers. There's no such thing as a receptacle that is 100% bear-proof, but the best products will have the following characteristics:

  • Tight-sealing lids and doors to reduce odors. Screw-on lids work well; other types should be recessed and self-closing.
  • Strong hinges and latches that cannot be pried open by bear claws. If it can be opened with a crowbar, then it can be opened by a bear.
  • Made of strong, corrosion-resistant materials that bears cannot chew through or crush.
  • Look for containers that have been tested and certified bear-proof. (See “Resources” for more information on testing.)

Before purchasing a bear-resistant trash container, check with your waste management service or municipality to find out which, if any, receptacles are acceptable. Movable containers should be secured with a length of chain, while enclosures can be anchored to a concrete pad or driveway.


Good Rules to Follow

You can also employ the following practices to minimize animal intrusion:

  • If you pay for a trash collection service, don’t put your trash out until the morning of trash day. The longer it is out in the open, the more of a target it will become for hungry animals.
  • If you transport your garbage to a collection site, do so regularly. Make sure the trash is inside the dumpster and the lid securely closed.
  • If you take your trash to your primary home for disposal, be sure to store it in a steel drum with a locking lid or other bear-proof container until you leave. 
  • Keep your fire pit free of garbage.
  • Do not bury your trash. Bears have a keen sense of smell and will dig it up.

Encourage your cabin neighbors to use these practices with their own garbage as well. Bears are creatures of habit and will continue to return to an area as long as food is available. If there have been bear sightings in your area, make sure your neighbors are informed.


Other Precautions

Beyond trash management, you can also do the following to make your cabin property less attractive to bears and other animals:

  • Store pet food and any odorous non-food items (e.g. toothpaste, soap, deodorant) in secure containers indoors.
  • Place your cabin garden in an open area away from game trails, and consider adding an electrical fence around the perimeter. Compost piles aren’t advisable in bear country, but if you have one, avoid throwing fish and meat (and other things that may smell good to a bear) into it.
  • Bears love birdseed and suet. Try feeding birds in the winter, and clean up any uneaten food in the spring. Set up feeders away from the cabin.
  • Clean your grill thoroughly after each use and remove grease traps.



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