Spreading joy by leaving encouraging messages for others to happen upon sounds like something wonderful. The Kindness Rock Project grew out of love for others, but it has a negative side. It does not practice Leave No Trace principles and can actually harm the environment. Ambassador Laura talks about how this simple task violates LNT as well as other ways to spread joy.

Have you come across painted rocks in your community lately? Or perhaps you’ve joined one of the numerous groups popping up around the world, where people come together to paint uplifting messages on rocks before hiding them for others to find? Known as Kindness Rocks, these are becoming more and more common.

This all started when empowerment coach Megan Murphy began placing painted rocks along a beach that she walked daily. Her intention was to leave messages of hope for others to find in a time of need. Since then, the Kindness Rocks Project has become a global movement. With over 65,000 followers across Facebook and Instagram, along with multiple other spin-off groups forming, it is quickly becoming the latest trend.

According to the Kindness Rocks Project website, the ultimate goal is to inspire others and spread kindness and positivity through the world. People have been coming together to paint, hide, and search for rocks which they then share through social media channels. Participants claim that these rocks have helped them when they’re down, have formed a sense of community, are a fun project to do with their children, and have gotten them outside exploring more.

Seems harmless, right? Unfortunately, there is a downside.

As an outdoor enthusiast, my thoughts automatically go to the potentially negative environmental impact that Kindness Rocks can have and how this project relates to Leave No Trace (LNT).

First of all, people have been collecting rocks to paint, many times taking them from natural habitats.

Since smooth river rocks make the ideal surface, people are taking them from coastlines and rivers where removal of rocks can disrupt river flow, the habitat of plants and animals, and contribute to erosion.

As with most things, it may seem harmless if you’re only one person taking a couple of rocks. But changing these environments even slightly can have a huge impact. When more and more people start doing it, it becomes a problem.

The second issue comes with the painting process.

While the movement’s website encourages the use of non-toxic paints, the fact that people are doing this in their own homes with no oversight means that it is highly likely that not all participants are using safe paints. And all paints, toxic or not, are not natural. Once exposed to the elements, these paints break down and end up in soils and waterways, impacting environments far removed from wherever they have been placed.

Where and how the rocks are placed can also be an issue.

Some cities have approved designated rock gardens which operate on a take-one- leave-one basis. However, the rocks have also been placed randomly, where people seek them out in a scavenger hunt-like search. A growing number of rocks have been showing up in parks, city streets, and even out in natural areas. While one or two may not be noticeable, many become graffiti-like and disruptive. And despite warnings on the website that placing rocks in National Forests and National Parks is “frowned upon,” people are still placing them there.

This directly contradicts Leave No Trace principles. State and National parks have had to issue statements asking visitors not to place rocks in these natural areas and have been forced to dedicate resources to removing them.

In an effort at educating those who may not be aware, here is a quick review of some of the Leave No Trace principles relevant to this discussion:

•  Leave what you find – this applies to anything you find in natural areas, including rocks. As mentioned, removing rocks can be incredibly disruptive to ecosystems and landscapes. Do not collect rocks from natural areas.

Respect wildlife – this includes not disturbing their habitats by taking rocks or by placing rocks in natural areas. Keep paints out of their food and water sources.

Be considerate of other visitors – many of us go out into nature to get away from human- altered environments. Littering the ground with painted rocks can take away from the unspoiled feeling that we’re looking for.

I realize that people who are participating in this have the best of intentions. They’re looking to form a community and brighten someone’s day. Which is great!

But if you’re looking to make the world a more positive and kind place, there are many ways you can do this without infringing on LNT.

Smile and hold the door for someone. Buy a coffee for the next person in line. Donate to your favourite charity. Help out with a trail cleanup project. Shop locally and get to know the business owners. Participate in a community garden project. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk. Volunteer. The possibilities are endless.

And to those who argue that placing Kindness Rocks in natural areas is good because it gets people outside (similar to last year’s Pokemon Go craze), I say this: Since when do we need apps and hashtags and the promise of coming across a colourful rock to get us outside? I may be preaching to the choir here but, for me, there are plenty of things to discover organically in nature and this is reason enough to explore the outdoors. No painted rock will ever be able to compete with a trail through a moss-covered forest or watching the sun set behind a mountain peak. And frankly, these things do more for my soul than inspirational quotes or a kind note ever will.

48 comments on “The Kindness Rocks Project – Not So Kind to the Environment?

  1. I agree with this 100%! The rocks may be well-intentioned, but they are completely inappropriate for a natural setting. It’s just litter, albeit kind and cheerful litter. I am so glad to see this being addressed here.

    Geo-caching is another popular activity that can have adverse impacts on natural areas. I was out recently at a local nature center with the now-retired director, and he showed me a disturbed area adjacent to the trail we were hiking where a geo-cache had been placed years ago, without permission from staff. Visitors looking for the geo-cache had created a whole mess of braided herd paths, trampling vegetation and causing erosion. I was horrified to see the effect this “harmless” activity had on this sensitive area.

    • Thank you! When I posed the question about longer term environmental effects of paint & sealant on a local rock painting Facebook page I was told to “take a pill and paint a rock.” I wasn’t even negative about it, just curious and asking that we look into it so that we can be sure we’re doing good when trying to do good. I’d love to also see some research on the levels of toxins & other LNT effects so that people will believe that little things we do to try to have positive effects can really have negative unintended consequences. Feeling validated now, thank you!

      • I’m sorry you had that experience Liz. I know it’s sometimes uncomfortable for people to think about how their actions may be negative…and sometimes people just don’t care. I know that most people who participate in this are meaning no harm but it’s always a good idea to do some research and look honestly at all potential outcomes. Thanks for your comment and have a great day!

    • Thanks for your comment Sara! Yes, there are many things that can seem harmless and fun and it’s often hard to recognize when they may be harmful to the places we love. That’s why it’s always important to take a minute and really think about the short and long-term effects of our actions.

  2. Don’t buy anyone coffee in disposable cups, plastic lids and polluting tiny stir straws that kill, maim and injure water fowl every year.

  3. I was just wondering about this myself. They advocate buying rocks instead of removing them from nature. But I wonder how those purchased rocks are sourced. I also owner about the impact of the paint. Even if the painted rocks are only placed in urban areas, that still could effect urban wildlife and the aquafir.

  4. I have long hated these painted rocks. They are tiny billboards that litter wild places with cute colors and cliches. Mostly they tell others how to live their lives (“Smile!” “Be yourself!” “What will you do with your one precious life?”) with an undercurrent of judgment. And if you question them, you’re accused of not being kind.

  5. Going to sound like a total nut but I have felt sorry for the rocks themselves. Crazy ,I know but they are born of nature and have their own place in this world. These trends become overbearing- Good for you for speaking out- I find it disturbing finding florescent rocks painted with messages on my walks in the woods, I believe nature has a more powerful soul food than a rock that has been defaced. Thank you for your courage to buck the trend.

  6. I love the kindness rocks project. Obviously care should be taken in natural environments, as with all things however the benefits of this projects are many. The beauty , sentiment and good will brings happiness and joy to many. It’s free, easy to do, and inclusive.
    Beauty comes in all forms and everything we do impacts the world around us . People are quick to judge what others do. None of us are perfect in the way we treat our world. If we were we wouldn’t drive cars, use non renewable resources to heat our homes, waste water, use chemicals on our lawns to have beautiful landscapes, create art with paints that may not be healthy, to name but a few.
    We should try our best to treat our environment, the animals and the people that inhabit it with respect, love and kindness.

    • Well said, I am part of this kindness movement. The rocks I use are the decorative ones sold in stores they are small. I do not hide in forests trails…..parks and so on ….instead I turn them into jewelry and mostly give them to people I’m close to. I understand where they are coming from in this message but am also gathering that they probably walk dogs out in these natural areas and leave the waste this is far worse then Leaving art work to make someone smile. I guarantee that if anyone of these ppl were offered a picasso, a Michael Angelo or any other artist they’d accept it with open arms. Just as they despise the rocks many others despise there incessant need to buy the newest cell phone, newest house and newest cars and new wardrobe every six months but they didn’t bother to put that in her 🤣🤣🤣🤣

    • I have stage 4 breast cancer. I used to have anxiety until I joint the group. Painting rocks and hiding them and then seeing a child’s face light up when they find it makes me feel good. I only use non toxic paints, I don’t attach anything to my rocks like google eyes or stickers or glitter that can fall off. I make sure my paint is sealed twice with non toxic sealer and I never hide them near waterways or national parks. There are a lot of sick people like my self that painting rocks is a form of theropy.

    • I absolutely do not take or leave rocks from or in any public lands. I strongly promote that to all participants. My advice: If you find one in a National or State Park, then pick it up (since it is in violation of every rock project I have seen) along with the inevitable trash you find and do with it as your heart tells you to do after you have been “exposed” to the Positive Message. I believe the cumulative impact of @TheKindnessRocksProject on our Earth is far more positive than any of the cumulative negatives you pointed out in the article other than leaving them on Public Lands the use of Non-Toxic Paints. Thank you for giving us a way to respond.

  7. Great article. LNT! The reason I go out to the woods, the desert or the beach is to get away from materialism, advertising and other man-made STUFF. Take photos and leave footprints, collect trash along the way. I’ll pick up any painted rock I find in the wilderness, but I’m not sure how to dispose of it. Ideas?

  8. So, let’s go to our local authorities and make sure this is SHUT DOWN!!! I mean, come on. Don’t these people know that they alone are destroying the world? I’ll not have it! I’m getting with the cabildo as soon as possible. NOT ANOTHER ROCK OR KIND WORD!! Come on people, get on board. Btw, I don’t really feel this way. I’m a rock painter. I get my rocks from my property or friends bring them to me from theirs. I use non-toxic paint, as do most rock painters and I place them in public spaces that my city allows – like most rock painters. Please, take the log out of your eye before attacking the speck in mine. Oh, and please find some happiness in your life, so kindness doesn’t hurt you so much.

  9. Please. We advocate for the environment as well. You are just plain ridiculous and jumped on a bandwagon. National parks are not to be touched in any way. We are not harming anyone. Where we place these rocks we have permission. It’s people who cause drama who are trying to ruin it. Please just leave them alone

    • Hi Susan, perhaps you missed the point of this article? We see a lot of painted rocks in areas where people do not have permission to place them. But we do appreciate the kind words you used when you called us “ridiculous” so, naturally the kindness rock project is working!

      • Wow. You have way to much time on your hands. This could be a skit on SNL it’s so ridiculous. There are far larger environmental attacks going on all day everyday that are having massive negative effects on the planet that could use some whistle blowers like you. One lady felt sorry for the rock being painted? One lady “long hated”seeing painted rocks ARE YOU SERIOUS?! Innocent children are dying of cancer- families are being torn apart by heroine addictions single moms are working 3 jobs to put a roof over their kids head but never get to see them cause the cost of living is so out of balance with minimum wage. Stop complaining about painted rocks. You sound so ridiculous. You want to do something effective work on yourself and let people do what brings them joy. In other words Mind your own dam business. You are what’s effecting this planet in a negative way. Seriously unreal. I love painted rocks and you have inspired me to start my own painted rock group and spread the word about how awesome it is to paint these rocks and leave them everywhere. If I knew where you lived I’d line your streets with beautiful painted rocks. Just for you. That would be a lot less intrusive then this non sense article you wrote. Guess it was a slow nature news day. PAINTED ROCKS RULE
        (YOU MUST BE FROM TJE SOUTH POLE )

          • I’m reading your scathing replies accusing other people of being unkind and I would like to point out that you are being just as bad. You are clearly not wishing others kindness and showing mere sarcasm to others with opposing views. It’s sad to see.

  10. So very true!! These ppl are just trying to take away something that we enjoy. Not going to happen though.. I’m going to keep painting my “bought” rocks with my kids an hiding them and finding them!! Thank you ma’am for saying how we all feel!.. have a good day Susan an keep up the rock painting an inspiring other’s

  11. It’s a beautiful idea and they do support the leave no Trace in our national Forest and parks so maybe read their website again. No I do not know them but I thought someone trying to inspire others how nice but of course there’s always one that runs it. Friend of mine found one and replaced it downtown on a step that’s not hurting anyone. Anything to cause trouble liberals go out of their way to find things to preach about. Nothing wrong with a lil joy around if they’re not disrupting anything. Most buy them from craft stores and someone grabbing a rock along the beach is not gonna disrupt any flow. If they were taking them from a natural spring then I’d understand but they’re not. Find something more bigger to worry about such as all the vehicles on the Rd polluting our site or the space shuttle screwing with our atmosphere. Get a grip please

    • Hi Julie, we definitely appreciate your comments. However, we aren’t liberals or conservatives here. Just a group of women out to talk about the issue of leave no trace. Happy Holidays to you and thank you for your kind comment. We’re getting a grip, we hope you do too!

  12. First, Y’alls replies to some of the comments on here are hilarious.
    I live in/very close to a national forrest. And my small town has a rock painting group so LNT has been on my mind quite a bit. I plan to leave my rocks in areas around town so they aren’t messing with the forrest. I think people forget that things like rocks, yarn bombing, guerilla gardening geo-cahces etc all have a time and a place and national forests and state parks aren’t the place. LNT up here is practically non existent though since we have non-locals visiting and then leaving dirty diapers, condoms, cans, clothes, broken sleds and all sorts of other garbage up here in our town/yards/forrest every year. It’s infuriating. On the one hand it really pisses me off, on the other hand I am glad these people are coming up and enjoying the forrest and the outdoors and I hope the time they spend up here sets the ground work for them to become outdoor enthusiasts in the future (just hopefully they become enthusiasts who understand LNT). I also have that mindset with rocks. Am I going to leave them in the forrest? No. Am I going to get enraged if I find one in the forrest? No. Because if painting rocks is getting people off their couches and out into the world then that in my mind is a good thing. I will just be sure to do my part and remove any I find from the forrest- I always try to leave it better than I found it. <3

  13. I just joined the movement of painting rocks and leaving them for others to find but I bought mine and I only leave them where they will be find soon and people will want to take them home and won’t be impacting the environment. I make sure I use sealant so that the paint doesn’t affect the environment. I have found it very therapeutic to do this since my daughter passed away. It brings joy to me knowing that others smile when they see one. We are just trying to spread kindness in a positive way. Like others said, people leave so much behind when they are out in nature including what their pets leave behind. We are just doing something positive.

      • Thank you. I actually found out about The Kindness Rocks Project trying to find an alternative to releasing helium balloons on my daughters first birthday since she passed away since it’s illegal in California because of power lines and the affects on the environment and wildlife. To me this is a much better alternative as long as people are smart about it and I plan to be!

        • That’s so NICE to hear an alternative to releasing balloons. I wish every state would ban balloon releasing. I’ve seen many articles (and pictures) about dead owls & wildlife that are tangled in the deflated balloon, after it landed. So sad. I see good points in the article above & know how it’s therapeutic, since I started painting rocks. But, I have not hidden any in public. I’m just painting for myself right now. I hope people will stop hiding rocks in National Parks.

    • DC, Sorry for your loss. Glad to hear you make effort not to impact the environment when you leave them places. Take care.

  14. I started a kindness rock garden in my town. I went to a meeting with the town park and rec dept and got permission. I get that we need to be kind to the earth. And I understand the leave no trace agenda. But I also see nothing wrong with using natural resources to create art….I mean native Americans have been doing that for generations. And also I eat food. The farming and meat industry harm the environment far more than a zillion painted rocks ever could. As far as where I get my rocks. I get them where ever i happen to find them. It would take hundreds of thousands of people removing tons of rocks from a single beach before we noticed any effects. And that’s not likely to happen. So I think it one of those agree to disagree things. Two different points of view both valid too some extent.

  15. Wow! I had no idea there could be any adverse effects to nature by leaving painted rocks out doors. I may adjust how I proceed as a newbie rock painter. I agree with not leaving them in a state park. nature is pretty enough as it is. I may try leaving painted rocks outside my hallway door and let the residents who want one help themselves. Definitely this debate has given me food for thought. Thanks to all for your opinions.

  16. Painting rocks and leaving then in public places is graffiti, You might as well go spray paint under a bridge,
    or on the side of a building. All seems the same to me. I’m not trying to hate on peoples joy but I’m pretty sure everyone knows its wrong.

    Just my unbiased prospective. Some people have too much time on their hands.

    • Hahah!!! I am assuming you aren’t from Seattle or anywhere else, except under a rock. The drug, homeless, and massive garbage situation downtown, along with heroin needles strewn around our parks, seems a bigger issue than these painted rocks, most of which are gathered in a person’s own yard. Please, our traffic signs and signs in general have more toxins than a non toxic painted rock. Might want to start tearing down all the trailhead signs, everyones car, your job, clothes, and home.. they are quite toxic.

  17. I am an admin to a painted rock group for my community we are in Oregon so there is a lot of wild life, by law we are aloud to take so much weight of rocks from beach’s per person. I buy rocks I also get them from beaches here.
    I respect the nature aspect you are saying and I think most kind respectful rockers respect nature as well and hide were our town says we can. I went before the park and rec. board for my community and they loved the painted rocks. So we are aloud to hide in the parks in my town by permission and we hide around town, like sidewalks. We also have a Take1 Leave1 Painted Rock Garden in our town in a small park. I personally don’t hide deep in nature on a hike. Not any need for it. I love nature and love looking at it.
    I love the kindness rock movement because in the 2 states I have done it, it brings the community together. To do something that includes everyone in kindness and love. Not many things seem to do that now a-days.

  18. Hike Like A Woman, thank you for striving to make this world a better place. We have become a world of people who say, “I could be doing something much worse, at least this is something that brings others happiness” instead of “I will find a way to make others happy and inspire WHILST bettering the world around me.” We only have one Earth, guys. As you learn about practices that affect the environment negatively, perhaps you can make changes to these things so that you are not contributing. In my experience, that makes people feel pretty damn good too.

  19. Thank you for this article. I have been wondering about painted rocks and their impact on the environment ever since a Girl Scout camp volunteer removed rocks painted by the girls and scrubbed them clean in a sink. The rocks weren’t along trails, but inside a permanent cook shelter; though I couldn’t tell you where the rocks came from or if the paint was non-toxic. This article provided some good information on how best to inform and teach folks about rock painting and minimizing the impact on the environment. This was also a helpful article – https://hikeitbaby.com/blog/painted-rocks-vs-leave-no-trace/.

  20. Where I live most trails have painted trees. I’ve been geocaching for years and we do a lot of cache in trash out. I’d be much more concerned about all the litter than some painted rocks.

  21. I’ve been geocaching for years. Most cachet’s participate in cache in trash out. I would be much more concerned about the litter than the painted rocks. Where I live most trails are marked with painted trees. Good point about the coffee!!

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