Tourism Waste and the Space Coast

Litter Images in Brevard County by Elizabeth Baker

BREVARD COUNTY, FL. - In recent years, Brevard County in Florida has seen a record number of visitors despite a global pandemic and rising inflation. In May 2022, the Space Coast Office of Tourism reported their 12th consecutive record-breaking month of tourism development tax collection. The majority of that was from hotels, and about one-third consisted of tax collected from vacation rental homes. March of 2022 alone collected $11,346,000 in tax. To residents that look at the flow of money that runs through a community as a sign of its health, this would be a great thing. To those that gauge their reality based on environmental impacts and the physical health of their communities, not so much. Is it too much to ask for a healthy economy and environment?

Tourism statistics estimate that the average visitor can produce 2 times the amount of waste while soaking up rays on a Florida vacation than they normally do at home. A trip to one of many tourist attractions within an hour of the Space Coast to leave with wristbands and some souvenirs, the bags, tags, and receipts included. Maybe a couple of those giant plastic cups with the twisty straw that the kids are begging for (but will surely be lost or melted in the dishwasher later)? A stay in a hotel room that provides soaps and shampoos in conveniently packaged “disposable” containers. They might even have a Keurig coffee maker with easy-to-use, no-mess k cups, stir sticks, and individual creamer containers for ease. A pit stop at a gas station for some snacks and some plastic bottles of refreshing water or soda before pulling to the side of one of the Space Coast roadways to watch a $4 billion space rocket launch to the moon with tens of thousands of other onlookers. Space Coast nightlife with a tiki deck dinner and drinks at a local watering hole to follow.

Plastic cups for safety on the deck and a fresh straw with every drink. You can probably find a variety of vibrant, glossy flyers and brochures for beachside eateries and live music anywhere you go. Don’t forget the to-go containers. Even the bar will give you a plastic to-go cup in Brevard County. On vacation, most of us let caution fly in the wind a little more and tend to excess in food, treats, and souvenirs. The solid waste generated in a tourism-fueled community can be a huge strain on already struggling waste facilities.

Brevard County hosts over 10,000 hotel rooms and close to 7000 short-term rental homes. We are now home to the largest cruise ship in the world that can accommodate 7,000 passengers. According to a 2014 FDEP report, Floridians produce approximately 9 lbs of waste daily. More than double the national averages. If our visitors produce even more than the locals, that is hundreds of millions of pounds of waste added to our overloaded waste stream every year.

Brevard County is no stranger to waste management challenges. Our recycling facilities cannot recycle most of what is intended for their facilities, and the landfills are at a point where they need to increase in size. In July, the Brevard County Commission discussed the plan to increase an annual fee that pays for the county land that houses our landfills by approximately $5.00 per household per year until 2025 to help provide the revenue needed to expand the landfills. On December 6, 2022, the Brevard County Commission approved a loan of up to $20 million to assist with those capital improvement goals. The cost of which is sure to be passed along to the taxpayers.

Local advocates have many questions regarding our waste management policies and enforcement where they live and are wondering why some local tourism dollars are not being used to implement and market better waste management practices from store to curb. In a place that has seen such a large growth in the travel industry as well as the year-round population, it is to be expected that overall waste management will be difficult. Thus far, and by their own admission, The Brevard County Commission has been reactive instead of proactive.

There are some things that county commissions have no control over. State laws like the Florida law that makes it illegal to ban plastic bags can and do prevent some actions towards sustainability. With extra waste Brevard has to contend with from tourists who come to see historic rocket launches, take a cruise out of Port Canaveral, or visit the Orlando theme parks, some advocates believe it is time for some collaboration with the multibillion-dollar industries that encourage the growth. Waste technology around the globe has seen incredible strides in recent years. With engineers and scientists flooding our area to visit and work, some think the space industry companies like Space X and Blue Origin and other huge traveler-attracting corporations like Disney and Carnival would be perfect places to start asking for some assistance in designing and/or implementing technologies that can help dig us out of the landfill mess we are in.

Of course, stopping the source of waste and pollution is the ideal goal with better standards for manufacturing and distribution of products, but convincing the consumer to make more environmentally friendly choices could have a huge impact. Messaging regarding litter and recycling in tourist areas, implementing better waste practices in schools and libraries, enforcing litter laws, public outreach via social media and other media outlets, encouraging local businesses to use eco-friendly packaging and bags, and investing in technology to facilitate recycling. Some will say there is no hope of cleaning up our waters and soil, but that’s what many said about humans going to the moon.

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