I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Surprising Lack of Recycling

We recently returned from a two week road trip to California and back.  The main point was to take our kids down to Disneyland and San Diego for their first time.  Long story short we had a great time.

Prior to leaving I was starting to get a bit frustrated with recycling.  I will be the first to admit that it is a pain in the ass to rinse and sort items that go into kitchen bins, which start to overflow, so then you use your counter temporarily until you finally get it out to the garage where there is more bins and bags for sorting. The compost that does not get taken out as regularly as it should creates a lovely haven for fruit flies and fuzzy mould.  I found myself wishing for a magical, guilt free dumpster into which I could throw everything in my house that I did not want, whether it be metal, plastic, glass, electronic, or wooden in variety.

Once we left Victoria I got half of what I wished for.  Everything went into the garbage, but it was not magical or guilt free.  Over the course of our trip we stayed in Port Angeles, Roseburg, Modesto, Anaheim, San Diego, Monterey and Cottage Grove.  Out of seven hotels only one, in Monterey, had a recycling bin in the room.

The first day or two were no big deal as we did not have much in the way of garbage.  However, we soon started buying snacks at the grocery store resulting in plastic veggie trays and fruit containers, cardboard boxes from granola bars and crackers, plastic cutlery, water bottles, etc.  Add to that shoe boxes and shopping bags and, as you can imagine, it piled up quickly.  The other area that produced an obscene amount of waste was the complimentary breakfasts offered by some of the hotels.  At the first couple of breakfasts my kids would ask me, "Where does this go?", referring to the plastic cutlery, paper or styrofoam plates, plastic cups, toast crusts and napkins.  At our house every one of those items would be composted or recycled.  In every hotel that had a complimentary breakfast all of those things went into the garbage.  I assure you that the garbage bags filled up very quickly.

The only places that I noticed recycling of any kind, other than the hotel in Monterey, were the amusement parks and beaches.  Disneyland, California Adventure, Sea World, San Diego Zoo & Safari Park, and the beaches on Coronado Island and at Torrey Pines State Park at least had recycling for drink containers.  At the two hotels where we spent the bulk of our trip I started folding paper and cardboard and leaving little stacks next to the garbage can along with drink containers hoping that there was a recycling program that I was not aware of.

I will point out that most of the hotels we stayed in were not totally devoid of earth friendly initiatives.  Most had the standard sign near the bathroom about limiting the amounts of water and detergent used by re-using your towels and, if staying multiple nights, not washing the sheets every day.  Certainly an important measure for a State that is not known for its rainfall.  A couple of them used bio-degradable packaging for their mini-shampoos and soap.  But compared to a couple of the hotels I have stayed at in British Columbia it was disappointing.

Maybe we missed the cities or hotels that do have comprehensive recycling programs?  Over the course of our trip we stayed in a couple of independent hotels, but also stayed in hotels under the brands Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Best Western and Wyndham.  In the spring of 2012 my husband and I travelled to San Diego and stayed at a Hilton.  Same situation...no recycling.  I considered doing this post after that holiday because we had also just recently spent a night in a Coast hotel in Nanaimo for a family gathering.  What a contrast! The Coast hotel in Nanaimo had the standard re-use towels and sheets, and also had no mini-shampoo or conditioner bottles, and recycling bins.

The Comfort Inn and Quality Inn both seem to fall under the Choice Hotels group of companies.  A quick peek at the website for Comfort Inn does not show an obvious "green" program but with a little exploring I finally made it to the Choice Hotels social responsibility page.  Some interesting initiatives over and above recycling for anyone who is interested but, for the purpose of this post, I am ignoring those.  There is a brief summary on the Room to be Green page, but apparently it is not a chain-wide practice.  Those that do participate use a symbol to indicate that they support green practices.  So what about Best Western?  This corporate website also has an impressive array of green initiatives and it is a requirement for all hotels in North America to have a green program of some kind in place.  Each hotel gets to choose the level of its involvement, from implementing one or two practices up to participating in an eco-labelling program.  Wyndham has a best practices document that details loads of initiatives they have taken to reduce their impact.  At the hotel we stayed in there were motion sensor lights in the bathroom, and the standard requests to re-use your towels and sheets.  As of October 2013 there was no obvious recycling available in the hotel room.

There is certainly more to being environmentally responsible than recycling and composting and it is entirely possible that several, or all, of the hotels we visited had things in place such as low-flow toilets, shower heads, or special lighting, however, those are not as obvious to the untrained eye and the garbage production is what stood out for me on this trip.  It seems that there would be an incredible opportunity for an entrepreneurial person to start a composting facility.  The complimentary breakfasts would be a good place to start for materials.  Hopefully next time we take a trip into Washington, Oregon and/or California these hotels will have gone one step further and have recycling available in the room.  In the meantime I have been cured of my wish for a dumpster.

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