Leave No Trace and your Tourism and Hospitality Business: Dispose of Waste Properly
Did you know that it takes up to 2 years for a banana skin to decompose? This can be even longer in rocky areas. It can also take between 2 and 5 years for a cigarette to break down. Unfortunately within that time, many fragments of plastic will have broken away and may have contaminated waterways by then. According to National Geographic, trillions of cigarette butts are disposed of, with an estimated third disposed of properly to the bin. As environmental issues are given more of a spotlight in the media these days - which can be daunting for many, however important that we are informed so we can take action - we are seeing more headlines like birds ingesting hundreds of tiny plastic fragments daily, news that all seabirds will have ingested plastic by 2050 and hermit crabs using old plastic bottle tops as shells. Not only does this highlight the importance of reducing our plastic consumption, it also highlights how important it is to segregate our waste efficiently and to dispose of waste properly. This introduces us to the next principle of Leave No Trace - Dispose of Waste Properly, and how your destination or tourism business can promote this principle. Waste is unsightly and can ruin an outdoor users experience. If we are in the business of proudly showing off our place, we must ensure that our place continues to flourish for both visitors and the local community.
We all have a responsibility to clean up after any activity, be it outside or in. It was a lesson we all learned when we were toddlers aided by an entertaining ‘clean up’ jingle or song. This is a lesson we have brought with us through life and one we should uphold. Where a mess has been created, it should be tidied by its creator. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. As tourism and hospitality businesses and destinations, we can remind both visitors and residents alike of this important lesson and make it easier for them to do the right thing and recreate the habit of disposing of their waste correctly and taking it home with them.
There are various types of waste that can be generated in the outdoors to consider:
1. Organic and Food waste
When spending a day in the outdoors, it is only natural that visitors will pack a lunch or a bite to eat. Many of us have a tendency to overpack leading to food waste and to the possible sight of an uneaten, gone-off banana that has stayed in our bag for over a week. For the food that we do eat on the trails like nuts, fruit and other snacks, waste like apple cores and orange skins are left over. By bringing an extra bag we can pack in what we packed out (link to previous blog). There is this perception that these apple cores can be food for wildlife. This is only the case if the apples are from a native orchard. Unfortunately, much of our food has come from far away places and is sprayed several times for preservation. This can be harmful to animals and moreover, leftovers littering our landscape is quite unsightly, so it’s best to take any waste we took from home, back home.
2. Packaging Waste
A quick visit to the local shop to stack up on supplies before a days adventure is almost essential for some. Though changes are being made wit more refill shops popping up around the globe and in our supermarkets, the majority of shops still provide products with a lot of plastic packaging. When out in nature, we cannot depend on bins being provided and this should not be our first port of action. So, once again, we can make sure we have a bag to bring home any packaging that we bring outside, including the packaging others bring out too! They may not be specifically packaging, however chewing gum and cigarette butts are massive polluters too with discreet but detrimental effects to our landscape and waterways, so it is important we are conscious of disposing of these safely too. This is an example of overlooked litter, which of course is unsightly and harmful to wildlife.
3. Animal Waste
It is great to have a furry companion with us in the outdoors. Their animated features and excitement outside always bring the majority of us joy. In saying this, others might not feel the same way, so we must always be considerate of other outdoor users and animals and keep our pets on a leash. This is another principle, ‘Be Considerate of Others’, which you can read about here. Another thing to think about when it comes to animals is their faeces. Dog fouling in particular is causing major issues between the messiness it causes when not picked up or the habit that has been formed by many in packing the excrement but leaving the bag behind.
4. Human waste
It may be an awkward topic to discuss, nevertheless it must be acknowledged. As humans, we also have our moments when ‘nature calls’. By knowing where there are public toilets and similar facilities before heading out we can guarantee we dispose of our own waste correctly. However, toilets are not always available when we need them. When ‘going wild’ it is important to go well away from camps, trails and water sources. When treasures need to be hidden, it is important to dig a 10-12cm hole. Another factor to think of is that animals often eat plants, so urinating on rocks or bare ground rather than on the vegetation is advisable. Where water is plentiful, consider diluting the urine by rinsing the area.
What does this mean for your tourism or hospitality business?
Just as you will have seen with the previous Principles of Leave No Trace, each relates back to the first, ‘Plan Ahead and Prepare’, which I covered in an earlier article. This is where your role comes in. You as a tourism or hospitality business can raise awareness and educate your visitors and staff on how they can be more conscious of how they dispose of their waste in the outdoors. Here are a few more pointers to consider.
- Who is your visitor and who will they be taking with them during their visit to you? Will they be accompanied by a furry friend? This is an important detail to consider when preparing their itinerary, you can find a few others here if they are going cycling and hiking. If they are bringing their pet, remind them to bring bags for dog fouling. Could it be an option that you provide compostable dog fouling bags on your premises?
- Encourage your staff and visitors to take home and recycle their litter, including biodegradable food. Do you recycle and compost in your business? Have you trained your staff on how to use your segregated bins correctly and how they could recycle and compost at home themselves? For visitors, if you have segregated bins on your premises, be sure to clearly indicate which goes in what bin. This can be done in a friendly and inviting manner with nice photographs of the products on your site or with emoticon images.
- If you are an adventure outdoor activity provider that organises retreats and overnight camping trips, ensure your adventurers take home all litter and leftover food (including all biodegradable foods). When washing yourselves or your dishes make sure you do so 30 metres away from streams or lakes and if necessary use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Bring home any solid waste and scatter strained dishwater around the area where you have done your washing, likewise when brushing teeth.
- If you provide your visitors with snacks or lunches, make sure that you do not overpack them as quantity does not equate to quality. Can you make these lunches zero waste or even plastic free? Encourage them to put whatever waste they have in the bags you have provided and take them back where they could be disposed of on your premises.
- Organise seasonal litter picks in your area. Get your staff involved and why not visitors? A recent Booking.com study found that 55% of travellers say they want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived. If this is the case, maybe your visitors might like to get involved too. After all, it would be a way they could meet locals. If your visitor is venturing out into nature alone, you could provide them with eco-friendly bags and encourage them to do their own litter pick when they are out and they could dispose of it through your segregated bins.
What does this mean for your tourism destination?
As a destination that actively promotes the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, here are a few ways you can raise awareness of disposing of waste properly:
- Just as mentioned before, you could organise local litter picks and collaborate with local businesses and community groups, such as the Tidy Towns or charities like Clean Coasts. Organise litter picking events on big days such as National Spring Clean Day, World Wetlands Day, World Water Day or World Ocean Day, for example. This is a way of bringing local businesses and communities together as well as reminding them of the natural beauty around them and protecting them. You can also collaborate with Leave No Trace for events such as these.
- On your destination maps, include spots where public toilets are available. This way visitors can plan ahead. Indicate whether these toilets are wheelchair accessible. On site, you could provide information like how far away the next public toilet is, in particular if they are a Greenway or Walking Trail.
- Could you provide dog fouling points in areas frequently visited by dog walkers, to facilitate those who have left home without a bag for when their dog fouls? The issue with this is that you would also need to provide bins which need to be emptied and the stations would need to be regularly replenished. The advice by Leave No Trace is to educate your visitor on bringing their rubbish home with them and not depending on public bins. If general bins are provided, be strategic in where they are installed, such as picnic areas, and allow for recycling and composting. If they aren’t provided, erect a sign post in similar areas educating them on why they have not been provided and encouraging them to bring their waste home. On your destination map, you could provide information like the location of the nearest recycling centre or bottle bank to inspire them to recycle their waste.
As with other articles, this is a guide for you, your destination and tourism or hospitality business in how you can raise awareness and promote the principle of Leave No Trace, Dispose of Waste Properly. In summary, you have the capacity to enrich your visitor’s outdoor experience of your place and lead by example in your local community by upholding and promoting the ethos of Leave No Trace.
Aoibheann is an accredited Leave No Trace trainer and delivers Awareness Courses as part of destination development training programmes. You can learn more about previous destination development training programmes here.
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