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The environmental impacts of the tourism industry

According to academics, the tourism and hospitality industry “is now considered one of the most dynamic economic activities worldwide”. However, the popularity of the industry continues to have consequences for the environment which are becoming a huge concern due to the rising volume of food waste.

Writing in the American Journal of Climate Change, researchers highlighted the vital importance of tourism waste management. If not handled well, poor waste management “can lead to substantial and irreversible environmental, economic and social impacts, such as increases in greenhouse gas emission, land degradation, resource deprivation, surface and groundwater water pollution, loss of biodiversity and the loss of aesthetic value of tourism locations”. Food waste management is essential to the tourism and hospitality sectors.

However, in many tourist areas – ironically, mainly in areas which are more likely to attract eco-tourists – the climate conditions, geography, economy and planning issues make waste management particularly problematic. It is estimated that, worldwide, the tourism industry produces around 35 million tonnes of solid waste a year. In poorer countries, this waste is much more likely to end up on landfill and this also includes airport waste.

The picture in the UK

The UK is not immune to the problems caused by tourism waste. According to the organisation Tourism in the UK, there has been a 45% rise of the waste level in Cornwall because of the high numbers of holidaymakers who travel there and generate a high degree of food and general waste.

The organisation highlighted the damage tourism can result in, including forcing animals out of their habitats, and an increase in the pollution caused by air and road transport. Overall, they caution that “being aware of the environment and the impact us as individuals have on it is one of the biggest, most important things that can help change the way we operate in today’s society”.


The National Trust estimates that there are two pieces of litter for every footstep you take on a beach. The amount of litter on UK beaches has more than doubled since 1994, and is responsible for the deaths of around 100,000 marine animals a year through entanglement or ingestion of our discarded rubbish.

Litter is a big problem for the National Trust throughout the country. At Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire, for instance, the type of rubbish people leave behind includes disposable barbecues, food waste which attracts vermin, and dog mess. However, the biggest problem is caused by convenience food – more than 70% of rubbish on the site comes from excessive food packaging. Even though volunteers work more than 200 litter-picking hours a year, the Trust still has to spend £3,000 a year on refuse collection at Brimham Rocks alone.

Despite the best efforts of the Keep Britain Tidy campaign for nearly 60 years – including participation on The Tidy Britain All Party Parliamentary Group – the message to take your litter home still doesn’t seem to have filtered down to a significant number of people. In the meantime, the Government is working on new legislation to discourage littering when you’re on the move, but the environmental impact of tourism doesn’t look like it will be solved anytime soon.


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