Sustainable tourism: In 2016 Spain was the third most visited country in the world with 75.3 million tourists. This is great for the economy and job creation but what is the impact on the environment? Besides CO2 emissions from transportation by plane and car, the biggest environmental impact is from water usage and plastic waste.
Because of the hot climate and the tendency of tourists to consume more water when on holiday than they do at home, the amount used can run up to 440 liters a day. This is more than double what the inhabitants of an average Spanish city use and has a major impact on the areas with water shortage in Spain.
In addition to this, tourists generate a lot of waste and in particular plastic waste. 75.3m tourists with an average stay of 5 days consuming 2-3 plastic water bottles per day each is about 940m bottles or 28.2km2 (the equivalent of 1/3 of the city of Barcelona) covered in plastic. And that is just water bottles. Other plastic packages such as soda, juices, sun creams and hair products add up to a similar amount. (Source: Eurostat)
“So where does all of this plastic end up?.”
Many of the tourists don’t care at all and throw the garbage on beaches, into the water, in parks and nature. Most of the waste however ends up in landfills where it takes 400+ years to break down, pollutes soil and water around it and, in the long term, our oceans. Best case it gets recycled. 2,151 kt of plastic waste or scrap are generated in Spain annually: 34% of them are recycled, 17% are energetically valorised and 49% are landfilled. (Source: Cicloplast 2016).
Sustainable tourism: Why is it important?
Last 10 years we produced more plastic than during the previous 100 years. Plastic is now the number one threat to our marine ecosystem due to a combination of direct and indirect pollution. Microplastics are small plastic pieces (<5mm) mainly from land-based sources which kill our ocean and aquatic life. Plastic water bottles can take between 400 and 1,000 years to decompose, so the waste we generate today will last for many generations to come.
What can we do?
Spain must take action to achieve a more sustainable tourism. This includes encouraging the use of environmentally-friendly transportation within the country, enforcing hotels and restaurants to offer tap water where possible, promoting water saving initiatives and a reduce, reuse and recycle policy for tourism as well as the local citizens.
Take inspiration from e.g. San Francisco and Singapore, two cities that have taken a lead in plastic reduction, or France, where the government has passed a law to ensure all plastic cups, cutlery and plates can be composted and are made of biologically-sourced materials by 2020.