Last spring, representatives from Subaru of Indiana (SIA) visited Yosemite as part of a partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) to continue to preserve the parks. SIA representatives toured Yosemite’s visitor facilities and got a behind-the-scenes view of how the park currently manages waste. Between visits to the park’s hospitality and maintenance facilities, the group was treated to views of the highest waterfall in North America and Half Dome, which soars 4,800 feet above the valley floor.
Behind the Scenes
A little more than an hour’s drive from the park, they found a different kind of mountain: one made of trash. Here at the Mariposa County Landfill, workers are sorting trash as it is unloaded onto the tipping floor, which averages an intake volume of 50 tons per day. At one end of the facility, garbage trucks dump fresh loads for sorting. At the other, a small pyramid of paper grows with each new delivery. Between them, a mound of milk jugs, plastic shopping bags, soft drink and water bottles is developing in the center of the tipping floor.
Plastic is Forever
Much of this trash came from Yosemite, left behind by visitors. What isn’t recycled in the park comes to the landfill for Jones and his crew to sort through. They do their best to recycle or compost as much of it as possible, but that’s not always an option. “You see more plastics in grocery store aisles and less paper or glass,” notes Jones. “Sure, you can recycle plastic, but it has a shelf life. And when it reaches the end of it, it doesn’t compost.” An eclectic and often unpredictable assortment of items makes up the waste stream that comes from the park. But there is one constant: plastic, and a lot of it.
Steps in the Right Direction
The waste stream at the landfill spikes in the summer, when Yosemite can see as many as 20,000 visitors every day. The park is able to keep an impressive amount of it out of the landfill thanks to its GreenPath waste reduction program, which started as a simple recycling initiative in 1975 and has grown to include 34 separate materials. In 2014, the park recycled 1,400 tons of waste. But it’s hard to keep up with everything visitors bring in. Enough organic waste alone is produced in Yosemite during the summer that the park has to use an additional garbage truck every week to haul it. While the park encourages visitors to use refillable water bottles at its many water filling stations, plastic water bottles remain a problem. “We do a lot,” confirms Mark Gallagher, environmental manager at Yosemite for Delaware North, the park’s facilities management company. Despite these efforts, plastic in its myriad forms continues to account for a significant portion of the park’s trash. Yosemite offers a five-cent bottle return for items purchased in the park, which has helped reduce waste. Still, every year trash from campers and day visitors ends up in the Mariposa landfill.
Want to take action?
Here’s how you can help reduce waste at our national parks:
- Bring reusable water bottles (Yosemite and many other national parks have convenient water refilling stations)
- Choose cloth or nylon grocery bags
- Buy supplies with minimal packaging
- Store food in reusable containers
- Bring reusable plates, utensils, and cloth towels
- Buy pre-owned camping gear to save money and help spare the landfills
Get more details about the Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. zero-landfill initiative, and how we’re partnering with the National Park Service to reduce waste in the parks, by visiting subaru.com/environment