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Sustainable Summers: Small Steps Towards Big Impacts

What costs $1.2 TRILLION and continues to get more and more expensive? The answer: Americans’ summer travel. In line with the increasingly prominent green trends sweeping the nation, it's important that we approach our summer adventures with a mindful consideration of their environmental impact.

EREF Staff

July 25, 2023

4 Min Read
sustainable travel
Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

What costs $1.2 TRILLION and continues to get more and more expensive? The answer: Americans’ summer travel[1]!

Now that it’s officially summer, many Americans are headed out of town. Whether weekends at the beach or months abroad, this summer is set to witness the strongest air travel since the pre-pandemic era, possibly making it the most robust ever. Over a quarter of Americans (26%), an increase from 19% in the first quarter, are preparing to embark on leisure travel in the coming three months[2]. This increase in travelers will translate into an approximate 12% growth in passengers for the three biggest U.S. airlines, expected to ferry 8.6 million people during the summer season[3]. While this mass mobilization symbolizes an exciting era of discovery and relaxation, it's crucial to remember that our travel plans, while invigorating for us, can impose a heavy toll on the environment. In line with the increasingly prominent green trends sweeping the nation, it's important that we approach our summer adventures with a mindful consideration of their environmental impact.

This summer’s surge in travel activity can unfortunately translate into increased waste production, with potential negative implications for our environment and lifestyle. Moreover, maintaining the allure and accessibility of our favorite scenic spots and lakes depends significantly on how well we protect them from pollution and trash accumulation. In a world where single-use plastic is commonplace, the path to sustainability can seem daunting. But a little planning can go a long way in fostering eco-friendly travel.

Unfortunately, it's rare to see recycling bins at rest stops and gas stations, which makes it difficult for travelers to responsibly dispose of recyclables like plastic bottles or cans. As a result, these items often end up in general trash bins, destined for landfills. By including more visible and accessible recycling facilities at these high-traffic areas, we could make a substantial contribution to reducing travel-related waste.

As you plan your travel, consider these tips. When driving, pack snacks from home, carrying reusable beverage containers, and maintaining separate trash bags for recyclables and other waste in your car. Make a game out of minimizing waste – it not only teaches sustainability but can add a fun twist to the journey. When traveling by plane, one could manage waste by having a meal before a short flight to avoid single-use packaged snacks. For longer flights, taking advantage of in-flight meals helps reduce waste as these meals would otherwise be discarded. Train travel, in addition to being an efficient mode of transportation, also offers a refreshing respite from the bustling city traffic. If your travel requires documentation or tickets, digital documents on your phone or tablet help save paper and are less likely to be lost.

Choosing larger, shareable items, using snack cups for family members, and reducing hotel service to only when needed are effective ways to cut down waste. Don't fall for the convenience of disposable utensils. Carrying reusable utensils, dishes, straws, and cloth napkins might seem like a chore, but such small steps can significantly lessen the landfill load.

Whether you're headed to the beach, mountains, cities, or abroad, there are specific steps you can take to reduce waste. For beach or lake visits, the use of items that could be swept away by the wind or tide should be minimized. In the mountains, a pack it in, pack it out mindset goes a long way in preserving the natural beauty[4]. City travelers can cut down waste by enjoying meals in local restaurants instead of opting for takeaway. When traveling abroad, especially to European countries known for their waste minimization efforts, be sure to pay attention when you have items to discard as most offer a more diverse suite of options for disposal than the average American city and in many cases have separate recycling bins for plastic, glass, metal, paper and food.

These small steps may seem minor, but collectively, they can significantly impact our environment, potentially steering the future of the tourism industry towards a more sustainable path. As you make summer travel plans, and add to that $1.2 trillion price tag, consider a pledge to travel responsibly and sustainably.

[1] https://www.ustravel.org/research/us-travel-answer-sheet

[2] https://www.ustravel.org/news/summer-travel-expectations-still-strong-economic-pressure-and-poor-travel-experience-may#:~:text=This%20summer%2C%20air%20travel%20demand,up%20from%2019%25%20in%20Q1.

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-05-24/summer-travel-in-2023-means-high-costs-and-big-crowds#xj4y7vzkg

[4] https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/backcountry-basics/leave-no-trace/pack-it-in-pack-it-out/

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