Research, performed by the Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism at Utah State University, looked at the waste disposal behaviors of visitors in Yosemite, Grand Teton and Denali national parks. “As we all know, national parks are busy places nowadays. Because of this increased visitor use, parks are trying to deal with more urban-type issues in relatively remote settings. This includes things like traffic, parking, and of course, waste management,” project lead Zach Miller said. “Managing these ‘frontcountry’ issues in the context of national parks is still something we are figuring out.”
In national parks across the U.S., a total of about 1 million pounds of waste is generated each year. While not all of it is visitor produced, if everyone visiting the park made efforts to reduce the amount of waste they generate, and properly sort the waste they produce, it would make a big difference in the amount that ends up in the landfill each year, Miller said.
In Southern Utah, Zion National Park produced 129 tons of municipal solid waste, or garbage, and 105 tons of diverted waste, or recycled waste, in their fiscal year for 2018, park spokesperson Eugenne Moisa said.
In the 2017 fiscal year, Zion produced 169 tons of garbage and 90 tons of recycling, and in 2016 they produced 182 tons of garbage and 141 tons of recycling.
Visitors are going to produce waste, Miller said. And the goal is not to eliminate it completely, just cut back on the number of recyclable materials that end up in the landfill unnecessarily.
There are a number of reasons that many visitors fail to recycle, including both real and perceived barriers that make it more difficult to do so. “One thing we found at both the visitor center and campground is that when people think reducing waste is difficult, they are less likely to engage in waste reduction behaviors like making efforts to plan ahead, sort their waste and avoid purchasing items that cannot be recycled,” Miller said.