Sustainable travel pioneer embarks zero waste adventure

One of the early leaders in the travel industry’s move
toward reducing its carbon footprint is setting its sights on another ambitious
sustainability goal: pulling off what it says will be the world’s first
zero-waste adventure.

After more than a year of research, scouting trips and
in-depth consultation with scientists from its partners at the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF), Boulder, Colo.-based Natural Habitat Adventures announced it will
undertake the challenge during one of its luxury safaris through Yellowstone
National Park next July.

The goal, said the company’s sustainability director, Court
Whelan, is to avoid the use of any plastics and to recycle, upcycle or compost
virtually every scrap of leftover food and packaging, bringing back no more
than a mason jar of waste.

The company then plans to take lessons from the trip and
begin applying them to its other excursions around the world.

More importantly, Whelan said, “Our main goal is to
change the industry, to get people to think about it.”

In 2007, Natural Habitat Adventures claimed to become the
world’s first carbon-neutral travel company, with a program that adds the cost
of offsetting carbon emissions to the price of its trips. The funds go to
reforestation and other sustainability programs that the company says have
offset more than 34.5 million pounds of CO2 emissions generated on its global
nature adventures.

“Our goal is to continually raise the bar on
conservation, and our first zero-waste adventure will show that it’s possible
to reduce our environmental impact while providing an exceptional experience
for our guests,” said Natural Habitat Adventures founder and president Ben

Trip leaders will encourage travelers to refuse potential
waste whenever possible, such as declining disposable straws or individually
packaged condiments.

Other strategies include providing travelers with a
zero-waste toolkit that includes personal reusable items, such as water
bottles, mugs, cutlery and tote bags; transporting packed meals in reusable containers;
recycling single-use packaging, including hard-to-recycle items, through
TerraCycle, a company that specializes in challenging recycling; composting
napkins and biodegradable food waste; and buying food in bulk.

In fact, the waste reduction begins even before the trip
begins, with travelers receiving only digital versions of all pretrip

“This is a big deal,” Whelan said. “We’re
sure proud of it in the company. We are obviously a very green travel company.
We like to think of ourselves as one of the most sustainable companies out

Whelan admits that when a colleague first suggested the
idea, he didn’t think it was doable.

“This is an ambitious one,” he said. “Some of
the initial questions were obvious ones — things like, ‘What about when you
eat at a restaurant and those strawberries were sent in a package from Florida,
how are you going to track that? What are you going to do with toilet paper and
hygienic waste?'”

The Yellowstone itinerary was one of the easiest to try the
idea on, he said, because it’s all land-based. That means they can bring along
recycling containers for compost and other recyclables. They have also
partnered with TerraCycle to handle hard-to-recycle items like mascara and
toothpaste tubes.

They do a lot of their own cooking at luxury tented camps
along the way, meaning they have greater control over food sources, packaging
and leftovers.

But not all the stops have easy options for sustainability,
Whelan said. For example, he said that in the town of Cooke City, Mont., one of
the park’s most beautiful locations, the only hotel is a Super 8, where the
free breakfast buffet includes a lot of plastic and Styrofoam. On that leg, he
said, the breakfast will be catered by someone whose sustainability practices
can be tracked.

Whelan said his hope is that after the trip, guests will
begin to incorporate more waste reduction into their daily lives. The average
American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day, the company said.

As Natural Habitat incorporates the practices into more of
its trips, he said, the hope is that other companies will take note, including
partners like Super 8.

The effort was developed with the help of Natural Habitat’s
partners at the WWF, which has a team of scientists dedicated to researching
waste reduction. Whelan said some of those scientists accompanied him and his
team on scouting trips to help develop the plan.

Jim Sano, vice president of the WWF’s travel and
conservation efforts, lauded the effort.

“We encourage the travel industry to follow Nat Hab’s
lead to mitigate its impact, protect Earth’s precious natural resources and
educate travelers about how they can do their part,” Sano said.


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