Spring Break is a Sustainability Nightmare
By Allison Miller
Trading in textbooks for suitcases and jetting off to a destination more desirable than campus is a dream for any college student, especially around March and April. However, when our favorite beaches and travel spots are left in complete disarray after we return home, the local inhabitants are left to deal with the damage. Even worse, we all feel the lasting damage to our environment due to the carbon emissions produced by the hundreds of flights and car trips that bring us to our getaway destinations.
From the time we were children, we were taught to pick up after ourselves and that littering is bad. Yet, beaches in popular destinations, like Miami, FL, find themselves infested with garbage left behind by spring-breakers. Hundreds of pounds of litter, including red solo cups, glass liquor bottles, and many other items, are found on the beaches long after the visitors have returned home – even in areas where these items are banned. Cities like Miami have ordinances that place heavy fines on littering. But with massive groups of travelers coming and going, these policies are difficult to enforce.
It is not a secret where the trash goes once the tide comes in. Many of the discarded items are washed into the ocean and ingested by marine animals. Plastic is not biodegradable and can remain in the oceans for years, threatening the lives of all sea creatures. In addition, the accumulation of microplastics released by the trash over time poses its own set of risks to ocean life. While we lack research on the lasting impact of microplastics, there is no research naming any benefits of their existence in the bodies of humans and animals.
When pondering your travel footprint, the easiest way to ensure responsible travel is by cleaning up after yourself. Abiding by the general rule of leaving a space as you found it is already more impactful than the actions of the careless. If you are interested in taking a step further, picking up other left-behind litter and disposing of it properly is a way to leave an area even better than the way you found it.
On another unfortunate note, around two to three percent of global CO2 emissions come from air travel. Additionally, almost a quarter of an airplane’s tank is used during takeoff and landing. So, the great deal you got on a flight with a layover in Atlanta may be costing less money but is costing the environment more greenhouse gas emissions.
What if someone still wants to take a vacation but does not have access to more sustainable travel options?
Obviously, one cannot carpool or take a train to Hawaii. If a flight is your only option, there are multiple resources to offset your carbon emissions. This means donating monetarily to a cause that will counteract the emissions you cause by either planting trees or performing another activity that will reduce carbon in the atmosphere. To further research how many emissions you cause by taking a flight, there are several online calculators that offer some insight.
I am still going to travel for spring break, but how can I be more conscious when planning?
To reduce emissions when flying, if the option of a non-stop flight exists, avoiding layovers could decrease your personal greenhouse gas contribution. Another way to reduce your personal emissions on a plane is to pack lighter. Heavier luggage means the plane is heavier, which means more fuel is required to move it. If every person on the flight reduces the weight of their bag by a few pounds, this slight change can save hundreds of pounds of emissions. Also, most airlines will not charge you extra for a carry-on bag as opposed to a checked bag. Avoiding flying entirely is unrealistic, but making educated decisions can make quite a difference for the future of our planet.
If you find your friend group in disagreement of if you should fly or drive to your domestic beach destination, I highly encourage you to consider your options. The more passengers you add in a car, the less carbon emissions per person for that trip – especially if you have a fuel-efficient or electric vehicle. Even better, trains or charter buses are viable options for shorter trips – and are often cheaper than a flight to the same place.
Students are busy, tired, and craving a getaway by the middle of the semester. This means many people ignore their environmental impact by instead focusing on a week-long retreat. A break is well-deserved, but this can still be achieved by making some small tweaks to travel plans. Or, avoiding travel entirely and opting for a “staycation” is about as sustainable as you can be when it comes to vacationing. Spring break can easily evolve into a sustainability nightmare if vacationers are not respectful and conscious of their impact on their destinations. College-educated adults are entirely capable of making educated environmental decisions when planning their next spring break trip.