David W. Randle

Water Conservation, Waste Mngt., & Reduction of Plastics Strategies Are Needed to Protect Coastal Habitat & Marine Environment

Water conservation, waste management, and reduction of plastics are all key strategies for sustainable tourism and the protection of coastal habitats and marine environments. Dave recalls that in the late 70's water conservation was essential to the survival of Marin County during a severe drought. We have both witnessed the marine litter on our beaches and waterways, and have become increasingly concerned particularly with the pollution in our oceans in plastics which now accounts for 90% of the oceans pollution.

The good news is that many in the tourism industry realize that addressing these issues is vital to sustainable tourism and protecting the natural resource values that allow the tourism business to succeed.

Sustainable tourism businesses have found that water conservation is an important strategy that can pay dividends in several ways including:

•    improving the experience of the tourist
•    cost savings
•    protection of ecosystems
•    disaster reduction
•    reducing pollution in the water ways

Droughts have already had negative impacts on the quality of the tourism experience in the Caribbean, other destinations in the U.S., and around the world. New drought cycles from climate change may complicate this existing situation.

Good water conservation programs can help ensure that the quality of the tourism experience remains high.

In Bermuda, and the U.S. Virgin Islands the law requires new development to include rainwater collection to help provide sufficient water supplies.

Water conservation also can save significant dollars in less water use, less water treatment costs, less labor costs, water storage costs, landscaping costs, and water and sewer costs. Using less water also strengthens the local economy as more economic resources are available for the local area.

Water conservation also helps protect ecosystems that include tourist attractions that may be related to fishing, hiking, sailing, etc. Water conservation helps protect minimum stream flows necessary for fish and wildlife, wetlands necessary for migratory birds, preserves plant species, and protects wildlife habitat.

Water conservation can also be a tool for disaster reduction. Landscaping can help reduce storm runoff in the water ways as much as 50%. This not only lessons the impacts of storm surge from hurricanes or floods but also speeds the damage to coastal habitat and the recovery as only half the impact occurs. Water conservation also mitigates drought impacts.

Good water conservation also reduces the pollution in the water ways as less fertilizers, litter, and debris from storm runoff enters the streams. This translates into less pollution in the water ways.

Perhaps what is needed most is to foster a new ethic and relationship with water. Our colleague Dr. Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy has provided an excellent framework for this new ethic in his recent TED talk The Sacredness of Water.

Tourism resorts have begun to become more proactive in encouraging this type of ethic and increased water conservation from their guest as evidenced by the Cairns Regional Council, in North Queensland, Australia.

The potential in water conservation is enormous. Walt Disney World for example has been able to:

•    keep the same aquifer levels for 22 years despite the tremendous growth of properties including hotels, hospitals, shopping areas, and parks.
•    develop programs that use approximately 30% or the resorts overall water needs and 80% of its irrigation needs from reclaimed water.
•    use six million gallons of reclaimed water daily for landscaping and cooling tower operations
•    recycling of almost almost all fountains, streams, pools, and ponds

Sustainable tourism advocates have also become aware that waste has become an increasing problem as more and more products are sold as In "disposable". This has led to massive problems of overflowing landfills, polluted waterways, lakes, and oceans, and in increasing factor of serious public health issues leading to beach closings and illness of the public.

These issues are further complicated by socio-economic factors such as poverty and poor access to healthcare. It is imperative for sustainable tourism operations to continue to find ways to refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle when it comes to waste.

Refusing unnecessary packaging, reducing the waste that goes to land fills, reusing waste for compost or energy sources, and recycling are all strategies of sustainable tourism.

Some basic strategies tourism businesses are using include:

•    Bulk purchase and choosing products with minimal packaging.
•    Eliminating or reduce the use of plastic carrier bags.
•    Using rechargeable batteries.
•    Provide filtered water in replacement of bottled water.
•    Reduce printing and use both sides of the paper.
•    Using dispensers in showers and vanity areas of hotel rooms.

There is a growing movement in the tourism industry toward zero waste to landfills. Key to the implementation of tourism plans to reduce waste is to engage wider participation of the tourism businesses employees, guests, and the larger community where they reside.

Infrastructure can go along way to reducing waste. Dave lives near Clam Bayou where a new diverter system has significantly reduced the trash entering the bayou and bay.

The Veolia and Whitbread partnership has teamed up the Veolia Environmental Services and hotels and restaurant group Whitbread in the UK.

The partnership has resulted in:

•    Reducing CO2 levels by 4576 tons
•    82% of their waste diverted away from landfills
•    A Goal to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2014

Another is the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort in Malaysia

They have implemented a comprehensive waste management plan that:

•    Composts food waste and used by the garden and landscaping staff.
•    A recycling program
•    A Say No to Plastics program that includes the elimination of hotel plastic water bottles.

Yuyun Ismawanti worked with the Bali tourism industry to provide a sustainable wate management plan for Bali. Ms. Ismawanti received the Goldman Environmental Prize for developing a sustainable community-based waste and sanitation management program that provided employment opportunities for 200 low income workers while safeguarding the environment and preserving the quality of the Bali tourist environment and its surrounding communities.

Walt Disney World has set the industry standard with their goal to send zero waste to land fills and to half the amount they send by 2013 from 2006 baseline levels.

Some of the Walt Disney Company strategies include:

•    Using biosolids resulting from the waste water treatment process, food, and animal manure to compost and then give away to local agricultural operations. About 11,000 tons a year are given to local farmers.
•    Incorporating waste reduction into the design of products, programs, and facilities.
•    Reducing waste through innovative product development, supply chain management, and end of life recycling.
•    Recycling scrap metal (over 1200 tons a year)
•    Recycling cooking grease and using to power steam trains. (740 tons a year)
•    Recycling electronics (over 100 tons a year)

To learn more about some Walt Disney World's best sustainable tourism practices watch the Blue Community Video Part 3



Plastics are an increasing problem in the oceans and perhaps the most serious pollution challenge. Plastics make up about 90% of the pollution of the oceans including the Pacific Gyre that is a collection of swirling plastics in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of the state of Texas.

•    Litter the landscape,
•    Kill birds and marine life.
•    Are non-biodegradeble.
•    Require petroleum to produce

Some best sustainable tourism practices to reduce the use of plastic include:
•    hotels and food and beverage catering that use biodegradeble dinnerware and tableware.
•    Seaworld's eliminating the use of plastic bags in its retail stores
•    Patsong Hotel Association & Thailand Tourism Authority program to encourage use of canvas bags
•    Cities and States taking action for plastic bag reduction
Walt Disney World provides some examples for reducing plastic that include:

A policy to eliminate the use of bottled water with employees wherever possible
•    Promotion of reusable water bottles instead of plastic water bottles at conferences.
•    Al retail plastic bags made with 100% recycled content plastics.
•    Refillable beverage mugs are made available to guests at resorts.
•    No plastic drink lids or straws are allowed at any of Disney's three coastal areas of Vero Beach, Hilton Head Island, or Castaway Island.
•    Biodegradeable straws are used at the Disney Coastal resorts and the Animal Kingdom.
•    Branded reusable shopping bags are available at all merchandise locations as an alternative to plastic bags.
•    Providing all Disney Cruiseline guests canvas rather than plastic bags.
•    Cast members encourage guests to reuse existing bags and consider purchasing reusable bags available at many retail outlets. Additionally, all plastic bags used at Disney must now contain messaging that describes the environmental attributes of the bag and inspires reuse and recycling in lieu of disposal.

If the tourism industry around the world strengthens their water conservation, waste management, and reduction of plastics practices such as the best practices we have described, the planet will be a much cleaner and healthy place for humans and other living beings and the tourism industry will be more profitable.


Dr David W. Randle - Director USF Patel College of Global Sustainability Sustainable Tourism, Managing Director International Ocean Institute Waves of Change Blue Community Initiative, and President & CEO WHALE Center.

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist and author of The Insatiable Bark Beetle.



Randle, D. (2013). Water Conservation, Waste Mngt., & Reduction of Plastics Strategies Are Needed to Protect Coastal Habitat & Marine Environment. Retrieved from http://www.bluecommunity.info/view/article/51cbfb3e7896bb431f6bf089