More visitors equals more waste of
The city of Bled (population 8,171) is one of the most famous and popular tourist destinations in Slovenia and internationally. The town is located at the foot of the Julian Alps on the picturesque Lake Bled. At the beginning of 2015, Bled became the seventh city in Slovenia to follow the path of zero waste. As part of the identification process, we analyzed their waste management data and noticed that the data plummeted again from the beginning of June until the end of September, and the amount of urban waste and remaining waste generated sharply increased during the summer months. When we correlated the data with the number of tourists and the number of overnight stays, it matched perfectly.
When I started to study the tourism industry, it was obvious that waste was one of its main environmental impacts. Hotels, restaurants and other facilities use a large number of products, usually delivered and packaged in personal disposable plastic packaging. For example, small plastic shampoo and soap bottles in a hotel room. Or provide individual packages of jam, honey and butter for breakfast. Multiply by the number of hotel beds and the number of overnight stays to get a rough idea of the severity of the problem. The data I encountered claimed that, as tourists, we use more water, electricity and produce more waste than in our daily lives.
When looking for a solution, I was surprised that there is very little literature on waste management in the tourism industry. Most of the content I can find mainly discusses strategies and recommendations, but in most cases, there is a lack of data showing the effect of implementing them. Zero waste tourism quickly became the focus of Slovenia's zero waste team. We have set up a project to find solutions for waste minimization and recycling for events, hotels and restaurants.
It turns out that these events are the simplest part. There is a large amount of literature containing solutions and examples from different countries, including detailed guidelines. We have integrated those that are most in line with our solid urban waste management system and legislation, and include the certification requirements of the Zero Waste International Alliance for enterprises. Likewise, Zero Waste European member organizations and staff proved to be invaluable sources of information: with their help, we encountered some inspiring stories, such as the Boom Festival in Portugal or Ecofesta Puglia in Italy. With the zero waste event guide tailored to the situation in Slovenia, we organized several seminars across the country, which were warmly welcomed by the event organizers.
Maribor event organizers seminar (photo: Ekologi brez meja)
Hotels are a more difficult problem to crack. First, we checked the requirements of various green certificates, mainly garbage classification and some basic preventive measures. The WRAP program is a great source of ideas to reduce food waste in restaurants and hotel kitchens. Among all waste generated by ordinary hotels, the proportion of biodegradable waste is between 40% and 60%. After a while, we began to believe that the hotel might be too big a challenge for a small team like ours.
Until Enzo Favoino of Zero Waste Europe (again) comes to save us. He connected us to Antonino Esposito, who began to introduce the principle of zero waste to hotels in Sorrento, a famous Italian tourist destination. Antonino kindly accepted our invitation to join this project, and we slowly began to understand why we couldn't find much literature. Each hotel has its own story. They are different in terms of scale, services provided, and star categories to be complied with; some have adopted green policies, and some have not. Achieving the goal of zero waste requires a radical change in hotel culture, involving employees, guests, and suppliers. This kind of change can only succeed if it develops slowly.
After Antonino provided our team with his zero-waste tips and tricks training and equipment, we were eager to find a pilot hotel ready to embark on a zero-waste adventure. Facts have proved that this concept is fully in line with the vision of the Bledribno Hotel. At present, with the support of Antonino, our team is drafting action proposals to achieve the goal of zero waste.
The Ministry of Environment’s joint funding ended at the end of February and the closing ceremony was held at the Astoria Hotel in Bled, a dining and tourism learning center. Antonino Esposito and Roberto Paladini (Ecofesta Puglia) presented their work to representatives of many hotels, event organizers, municipalities, NGOs, waste management companies and Slovenian tourism organizations. As many hotels and event organizers have expressed their interest in zero waste, we believe that zero waste tourism will become one of our successful cases.
Antonino Esposito and Roberto Paladini show their work in Bled (photo: Ekologi brez meja)
On a global scale, tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries. Europe accounts for half of the number of international tourists, and revenues are roughly the same. More tourists means more waste, and more waste inevitably translates into a larger environmental footprint. This is not just a question of areas where the establishment of an effective waste management system is challenging, such as small islands or remote, sparsely populated areas. Bananas or pineapples travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to reach the breakfast buffet in a small town in the northwestern Slovenian Alps, which consumes energy and generates greenhouse gas emissions. Waste, especially plastic waste, is also a huge problem in terms of declining value in tourist destinations. Therefore, reducing solid waste should become an important goal of the tourism industry. Not only to manage their own garbage, but also to support and participate in the establishment of effective garbage management systems in tourist destinations. After all, who wants to lie on a beach covered in plastic trash, or live in a nearby mountain camp where trash is rotten?
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