Written by Estelle Marie

Tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing socio-economic sectors of our times and has created disastrous waste issues. 50 years after the International Tourist Year in 1967 the United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism as a way to raise awareness about this sector.

  1. What are the positive and negative impacts? How big are the benefits and who is benefiting from it? Are there relevant sustainable alternatives? Those are the few questions we will try to answer in this article.
  2. Enthusiasts see in the development of new trends like eco, slow or rural tourism an opportunity to generate positive impact. Nevertheless, those emerging good practices are still a niche market.There are many deeply rooted and harmful attitudes to be changed and missing infrastructures to be settled, so that this whole linear and business-as-usual sector can make a real change.


We think waste issues are a perfect starting point to help this industry transition to more social and ecological practices. After many interviews and readings we’ve come to identify 4 main challenges and 10 call-to-actions during our 2018 citizen mobilisation campaign named Wasteless Journeys.



  2. 1/ Trigger massive behavioral change

What drives people into travelling? Let’s have a look at a grid provided by garbologist Rudy Guilhem-Ducléon. It shows that each motivation can have both positive and negative outputs depending on the information and options that are available for tourists.

To try and diminish risks and make the most out of opportunities, professionals and activist are enthusiastic about the potential of nudges: a better understanding of user experiences can help design solutions to make people act in a better way at specific moments. By doing and sharing A/B testing on tourists, we might develop a better understanding of what drives them into adopting better attitudes.

Here an example from Green Nudges : “Researchers carried out a pilot experiment on waste recycling in the town of LaVerne in California. Every day for four weeks, a note was placed on the door of 120 homes informing the occupants of the number of their neighbours who participate in domestic waste recycling and the quantity of recycled material that it represents. The impact was immediate: the volume of recycled materials increased by 19%. Furthermore, this effect was even ongoing for four weeks after the project, although the action of placing notes on doors has already found its end. The strength of this strategy lays in providing informational feedback on the behaviour of the neighbourhood, and thus of the social norm applicable in the district. An interesting fact is that the figures mentioned on the printed note were handwritten, thus emphasizing the human factor, which is crucial in this type of initiative.”


2/ Bring more awareness

It’s interesting to see how people who truly care end up protecting their environment. Take the examples of Surfriders and Mountains riders : those who love the contact with beauty and wilderness create huge environmentalist movements that regularly organize beach or mountains clean ups. The same can be seen in urban areas, Mudano who performed graffiti or Leo not Happy who practiced breakdance to achieve his goal of having cleaner streets. Both triggered citizen movements so that the city’s streets could be kept clean by mobilizing citizens and helping .

As strange as it may seem, people can enjoy snorkeling and eat fishes everyday without questioning themselves about the origins and impact of their diet. Mass tourism can jeopardize the ecosystems that will in turn threaten the economy. Sustainable tourism isn’t only about preserving the environment, it is also about preserving one’s resources and ability to work in the long run and can bring about ecological measures. In Palau, overfishing was destroying the resource the tourists were attracted by and to protect its tourism industry, local government end fishing in a California-sized swath.

Check out this video from Coursera and register to their MOOC starting on March 26.


3/ Develop proper infrastructures

A big problem about the tourism industry is that there are many different types of waste to be dealt with. You will find paper, cardboard, food scraps, plastic, wood, carpets, furnitures and above all those will be scattered all along the tourist journey which make them even more difficult to collect.

At some point the great seasonality and geographic dispersion make it hard to provide proper infrastructures. It’s difficult to operate and sustain waste management processes and facilities all year round when most of the volume is concentrated in one month. It’s also complex when users don’t understand how local policies work: in Paris for instance, there are so many Airbnb in the second arrondissement that the local organic waste collection is struggling to get sufficient volumes since the many Airbnb guests do not separate their waste.

In many cases, there are not even existing infrastructures to deal with the waste problems generated by tourism. In “developing countries”, there is often a lack of waste collection, recycling facilities. But that also applies even for luxury hotels and so called “developed countries” which often fail to go further (or even do worse) in what reglementation demand. Both tourists and local population can call out to local governments to provide solutions but civil society and even the informal sector have a major role to play to place the waste issues and possible solutions on top of the agenda.


Good practices and examples of partnerships to redistribute furnitures or meals are many and replicable but the lack of knowledge, networks and financial incentives make it hard for these practices to spread.


4/ Promote authenticity

As sustainable development has become a big trend, many players tried to attract consumers with eco friendly allegations that somehow missed the point. Just as it is important to understand the whole lifecycle of an object to understand its ecological footprint, tourists and professionals should consider taking into account the whole customer journey and its impact to take relevant actions. Let’s take the eco-cup example : today many festivals boast of using them but fail in putting a yearly design on it, in not to provide an appropriate return system. As a consequence, many cups remain uncollected or not reusable the next year. This is a shame since according to ADEME the environmental footprint of an eco-cup is only better than discardable ones when used at least 7 times.

Last but not least, the mere notion of tourism could be discussed. Apps like Fairtrip and alternative guides try to take us out of the gringo trails, to generate genuine encounters far from the overcrowded postcards spots, less far, less fast, learning local languages. The more you eat local and seasonal, the more enriching it is for you, for the locals and it will be a good way to go packageless, which is maybe a good way to make sure that the food is genuinely local and not industrialised.



#1 Learn with us on our blog or become a skyrocketing author yourself clicking here

#2 Share this article

#3 Alert and question local authorities and companies through media like Global Alert, local communities and key actors could use your photos to claim for better waste management on municipality level

#4 Report your wasted holidays on twitter: #wastelessjourneys

#5 Join our online community to meet with other engaged citizens and entrepreneurs

On the ground :

#6 Walk the talk like Luizzati and learn to travel zero waste

#7 Participate in our conferences and events (like our fanpage to be always up to date)

#8Organize a wasteless event or festival by following our many trainings (check our calendar)

#9 Become an ambassador for this topic in following our collaborative Mooc tour Summer Bootcamp in southern France

#10 Create your own circular business during the Sensefiction day on May 26th

Wasteless Journeys is a global Future of Waste campaign launched by MakeSense with the active support of SUEZ.