Subaru of America, in conjunction with National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), released survey findings indicating that a majority of Americans (59 percent) were unaware of the waste management challenges facing national parks across the country.

The Subaru National Park Survey explored attitudes and behaviors of park goers, revealing that, while most are unaware, more than four in five (84 percent) would be willing to make a significant effort to reduce the amount of trash left in parks.

In addition to the Subaru National Park Survey, Subaru and NPCA recently concluded an in-depth waste characterization study that demonstrated that a significant portion of the waste that the National Park Service (NPS) manages nationally is brought in from outside the park – with a small range of everyday items being the biggest issue.

The study found plastic waste, such as water bottles, plastic bags, non-recyclable or compostable food packaging, and paper hot cups, are the main drivers of waste sent to landfills and the biggest concern in the national parks.

NPS manages more than 100 million pounds of waste nationally, much of which is generated by serving more than 300 million park visitors per year. This number is in addition to waste managed by park concessioners, who provide accommodations, food services, retail operations and transportation to visitors.

“As a longtime advocate for protecting the environment and a premier partner of the National Park Service Centennial, Subaru is more committed than ever to spreading awareness of these issues and making meaningful strides to keep our national treasures beautiful,” said Thomas J. Doll, president and chief operating officer, Subaru of America. “We hope these new studies shed light on the lack of awareness of this important issue, but also show that Americans are willing to make a concerted effort to help address it.”

Waste Characterization Study

The waste characterization study examined pilot parks Yosemite, Grand Teton and Denali to identify top drivers of waste sent to landfills. Subaru, recognized for having the first automotive assembly plant in America designated as zero landfill, has set out on a larger initiative to share its knowledge of zero landfill practices with the national parks, working toward a goal of significantly reducing waste going into landfills. These initiatives, with the help of NPCA, NPS and park concessioners, are already making a difference. Denali has established a Zero Landfill Youth Ambassador Program to support employee and visitor education programs, Grand Teton has led the park service in dedicating employees to waste diversion, and to increase Yosemite’s already high waste diversion levels, dozens of new recycling and trash containers have been installed in more high-traffic visitor locations. All three pilot parks have committed to adopting the standardized recycling labels from Recycle Across America that have been proven to increase recycling levels, reduce confusion at the bin and make it easier for park visitors to recycle correctly.

Subaru National Park Survey Results

Taking the results of Subaru and NPCA’s waste characterization study into account, Subaru’s survey of those who have visited national parks examined their waste and recycling habits while there, explored misconceptions about the amount and types of waste generated at parks and surveyed park goers’ attitudes and behavior toward helping tackle these issues.

Awareness of Waste Management Issues

Respondents were asked about their awareness of national parks’ waste management challenges and how far they would be willing to go to help.

  • While many believe that Millennials are the most environmentally conscious generation, the results showed that both Generation X (57 percent) and Baby Boomers (58 percent) are 50 percent more likely than Millennials (42 percent) to do everything they can to help reduce park waste
  • Those in the Midwest and South say they are more likely than those in the West to do everything they can to help reduce park waste

Visitor Waste and Recycling Habits

The survey explored park visitors’ knowledge and usage of recycling facilities at national parks.

  • More than two-thirds (67 percent) of visitors make use of park recycling facilities
  • Less than half of park visitors (49 percent) sort trash and recycling into separate containers before leaving the park
  • Only two in five (40 percent) take their trash with them when leaving

Packaging and Water Bottle Usage

Subaru’s survey also studied what type of waste is brought into national parks by visitors and examined their willingness to change their behaviors to help reduce garbage left behind.

  • More than four in five (82 percent) visitors consume food or drinks within parks, with slightly more than half (53 percent) purchased within the park
  • Millennials are more likely than older generations (65 percent vs. 48 percent) to buy food or drink inside parks
  • Although more than one-third (35 percent) of park visitors drink from disposable water bottles, nearly four out of five (79 percent) visitors would support the removal of single use water bottles in national parks if it would significantly help reduce waste
  • Those that utilize disposable water bottles say convenience (68 percent) is the number one reason for using them