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Visit Scotland – and take home our zero waste story

One of my first jobs in waste management back in the early 1990s was ‘selling’ trade waste charges to the businesses of East Lothian.  One of the things I used to sweeten the pain was the offer of a free recycling service for glass, paper and cans.  

Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland | 7 Mar 13

Most businesses I visited were sceptical – some damn right rude – about the idea of a recycling service, saying that it was too much hassle and they couldn’t see the point.  Not Mr McNair at the caravan park in North Berwick.  He understood both the financial savings to his business but more importantly the fact that his growing European customer base was expectant of such a service within the park. On a rainy day in North Berwick – believe me there aren’t many – holidaymakers might stay put, have a sherbet or two and be looking for somewhere environmentally friendly to dispose of their empties.  Recycling bins, he said, would just be the ticket.

Expectations from our customer base in the tourist trade have increased enormously since then – Scottish tourism is now big business and we attract people from all over the globe to our shores.  Our beautiful scenery, castles and history underpin our offer, but more and more what will set us apart will be our hospitality and our ability to demonstrate genuine sustainability.  

New Zealand, 2003: I remember arriving in Kaikoura to be asked to sign up to hotel ‘rules’ on recycling.  Kaikoura has a population of around 30,000 but visitor numbers exceeding 1 million, drawn by incredible whale watching off-shore.  The town has no general waste collection; the council runs a recycling collection for source-separated materials but for refuse, everyone has to take their waste to an out-of-town tip and pay charges – hence the importance of getting hotel guests to abide by simple rules to cut unnecessary waste.

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Scottish Tourism Alliance annual dinner and the major ScotHot event at the SECC.  Both events showed off the Scottish tourist trade at its best.

With the new waste regulations coming into force, and our commitment to support the tourist industry through the new Resource Efficient Scotland programme, there has never been a better time for the industry to think about resource efficiency.  

But, for us, the call to action is about more than the perfunctory signs about reusing towels an extra night.  It is about demonstrating real commitment and engagement with customers at the point of booking and arrival.  We should make visitors absolutely clear that Scotland, as a nation, is signed up to zero waste and resource efficiency.   We’re already telling a story about local food, our flora and fauna and our history.  Let’s also tell a story about our sustainable future.  

So, for example, if your business is taking steps to reduce or recycle food waste, don’t just hide that behind the scenes, in the kitchen or back-of-house – shout it out that you are doing your bit and want people to be part of and enjoy the experience too.  All our native ‘staycationers’ will expect it as they will be doing it all at home already, and the visitors from afar will go back with another positive story to tell, that not only is Scotland one of the greenest and most sustainable of places to visit, we want people to help us keep it that way.

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