Since we have been experiencing the world’s most impactful pandemic since the Spanish Flu, we also see the “silent growth” of plastics and trash being produced by outdoor travelers visiting remote locations in the United States.

While we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that the Plastic-20 Pandemic is simultaneously impacting tourism destinations already in the early summer. Campers filled with groceries and outdoor gear generate unusual amounts of trash at the campgrounds and communities. What could visitors and communities do to reduce the amounts of plastic and trash? In The Travel Exchange Podcast, I interviewed Jen Nillson, outdoor travel blogger and former secretary of the Illinois Office Of Tourism. Her life mission is to reduce the use of plastic in relationship to travel.

trash pile in Polermo Sicily
Trash hills in Palermo, Sicily, resulting from the overuse of plastic.

Some interesting facts about plastic and its impact on the travel industry:

  • The 200 million tourists who visit the Mediterranean every summer contribute to a 40-percent spike in plastic entering the sea. Source: World Wide Fund for Nature
  • More than 22 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away yearly. One in six of the water bottles purchased in the United States are recycled. The amount of water bottles wasted each year adds up to half a billion pounds—almost as heavy as the Empire State building! Source: American Rivers
  • Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled. Source: Study published in Science Advances
Woman hiking on trail
Check out the works of responsible travel blog, “The Lens of Jen”

We agreed that going to Zero Waste is almost impossible; however, there are a few simple tactics we can apply that would make a huge difference. Jen also mentions that “it is all about the consumer’s demand. If consumers demand from businesses and tourism destinations to reduce waste, then businesses will listen and follow their directions. We both think that responsible travel will have a comeback in the next few years where reusing glasses, cutlery, and bags can contribute to hygiene and sanity more than single-use plastics.

Here are a few tips that we discovered:

Make Reducing Trash a Habit in Your Daily Life

This starts early in your family household. It is the educational component to understand from the beginning the negative effects of plastics on our planet. We should start building routines of not using plastics in the household and avoiding plastic bags and wrapping at grocery stores. If we can be an example to our family and friends, conversations about these new habits will increase.

Pledge to Not Use Plastic Bottles

Though there are hundred of ideas for reducing plastic, the one that sticks out for us is to completely eliminate single-use plastic bottles. This is a challenging task when traveling; however, more and more destinations offer public refill stations in visitor centers. Also, tourism marketers can set an example by giving away branded water bottles in exchange for a pledge from visitors not to use single-use bottles.

Live Like a Minimalist

It is a psychological game. The more we own, the more unhappy we become in life. This is a unique moment in your life as a traveler to live like a backpacker. You should get high quality gear that you can use for a longtime with the objective of not buying all the swag you need for your travel needs. This automatically will reduce your impact on plastic.

Bring Your Own

Carrying your own reusable water bottle, bamboo cutlery, collapsible plates, bowls and mugs, and reusable bags when you travel will not only reduce your own plastic consumption but will influence others around you. Carrying a personal wine cup on an airplane, for instance, often gets seatmates and flight attendants interested in reducing the use of those single-use, plastic cups. Politely declining to use plastic cutlery in a restaurant gets noticed by employees and management. Bonus: Once you start traveling with these items, you will get used to going everywhere with them, even in your daily life!

Other Ideas for Tourism Marketers:

  • Survey partners to see what they are already doing to reduce plastic and promote their progress
  • Create plastic reduction challenges among partners and promote partner results
  • Create and use a destination-specific hashtag. It can be simple like #NoPlasticOregon
  • Create a website page or section promoting sustainable attractions and accommodations
  • Send out emails promoting sustainable partners
  • Engage those consumers who click on sustainable links in your newsletters. These are consumers who want to hear about sustainable destinations, and targeted emails have high open rates (and high inspiration rates)!

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