Keep Iceland beautiful, reduce your waste!
One of the things I loved about Iceland was how raw it is. With only 300K inhabitants, it has a lot of untouched land. Lots of open spaces also means lack of stores and restaurants. One has to be prepared especially when driving around the Ring Road. Sometimes, the only source of supplies can be a rest stop which is full of single-use disposable items. While I was not 100% successful in traveling zero waste while in Iceland, I am proud to admit that I survived 6 days travelling around the Ring Road without purchasing a single water bottle. A huge win for me. I also noticed so many opportunities to reduce waste the next time I go there which I am already marking as a future plan.
While Iceland itself uses a great deal of renewable energy which I discuss below, it doesn't do such a good job recycling and reducing waste. With an influx of tourists coming in, the waste level is increasing. This waste is collected mostly via single-stream and shipped to other countries which is resource intensive. The best way is to reduce generating waste completely. Every little thing counts right?
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Skip the Bottled Water
Hands down I think Iceland has the best water coming straight from the tap. I mean ridiculous good. So good that I took some home. I love my water cold which is why I invested in the Klean Kanteen Vacuum Insulated 20oz stainless steel bottle. If you've read some of my past posts, you know that I am in love with this bottle, but after Iceland, I love it even more. This is by far one of the best investments I have ever made as I started my zero waste and plastic free journey.
Water straight from the tap drinkable in Iceland as it is sourced from natural springs. My advice is to run the cold water for a bit as tap warm/hot water can sometimes smell like sulfur. Because Iceland runs naturally on the cooler side, water will remain cool and refreshing. Additionally, keep your eyes peeled at major landmarks for areas to refill your water. I found one at Skaftafell and Vatnajökull National Park where we hiked a glacier a few minutes away. It was so good, I must have refilled 3x times which consequently required multiple bathroom breaks. Oh well, water is life! You will not see water fountains at the many rest stops around Ring Road, BUT, I had no issues kindly asking the cashiers to fill my bottle. They filled straight from the tap.
By bringing your reusable, you'll not only reduce waste, but also save money because unfortunately even bottled water in Iceland is 2x to 3x as expensive and it's sourced in the same way as tap.
Top Places to Get Water:
- Spring Source at Skaftafell and Vatnajökull National Park Visitor Center
- Keflavik Airport (fill post security check)
- Ask cashiers at all rest stops
- Fill at guesthouses straight from the tap
Bring Your Reusable Coffee Mug
Warning! There are no Starbucks along the Ring Road. In fact, it's pretty rare to find places to get coffee around Iceland's small, sparse towns. This is where bringing your own insulated mugs will come in handy. At all of the places we stayed at from the summer house to the cottages, coffee or tea was available for us to make. Thankfully I brought my second Klean Kanteen 12oz coffee cup. It was perfect to fill with hot coffee or tea on the long, early morning rides on the road. My husband brought his too so he could drink coffee on a volcano. NBD!
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Dine In As Much As You Can
24 hours of sunlight can really play tricks on you especially when it's time to eat. Without nighttime as a marker to have dinner, sometimes the hours roll on. And sometimes, you are so busy exploring Iceland that you don't feel hunger at all. This means that by the time you realize you need to eat, most of the stores and restaurants have closed already. If you can, plan your stops to dine in at restaurants to reduce take-out waste.
I purchased sandwiches wrapped in cellophane plastic because it was the only choice available for dinner. If you have access to a kitchen and can cook dinner, just be aware that almost everything in Iceland is imported and therefore packaged so it's not as easy to find items in bulk or without packaging. The good news though is that many of the guest houses on the Ring Road offer real plates and cups so this is a good way to reduce single-use items.
Iceland has very little arable land and most vegetables and fruits are growing in greenhouses powered by geothermal energy, however, not enough is produced for commercial consumption so you'll find food prices steep. One of the things I like to do when traveling is to eat locally as possible, but sometimes it's hard to do. On this trip, I stuck with fish and chips and beef burgers. Iceland has a thriving fishing industry so fish is abundant in certain areas. As you drive along, you'll see cows, horses and sheep freely roaming and eating grass. Many restaurants offer horse and whale meat. There's some good amount of controversy about eating these two sources of meat. Some horses are bred to be consumed and I can understand if this is a local thing to consume so eating it should be your own preference. Whale, I read used to be a food source for Icelanders, but not anymore and there's so much controversy about the catch process that it might be good to re-consider eating whale meat.
Alternatively you can bring your own to reduce needing to purchase items. I brought a few items from WFM bulk, some packaged bars and wine. This saved me some money, but did not reduce trash. I also partook in snacks that our carmates brought which were all delicious, but definitely created trash.
A Note On Renewable Energy
Iceland is committed to using renewable energy using geothermal, hydro and wind sources. Geothermal is primary used for space heating which in cold Iceland is much needed. I wish I had a chance to take a picture of one of the hydropower stations they had because it looked massive and with lots of waterfalls, there's no shortage of opportunities to harness this power. Most of Iceland's fossil fuel dependence is for transportation so while one drives around Ring Road, note that gas is part of the reason why they need to import fossil fuel.
One of the most touristy places in Iceland is probably the Blue Lagoon. Keep these things in mind if you head there and don't want to use a lot of plastic. Upon checking in, they will offer you a wrist band that includes an electronic chip for entry/exit and food/beverage charges. The good news is that this is reused judging from the way that mine did not secure on properly from wear and tear. In the Blue Lagoon, you can purchase and drink beverages. Understandably, this is given in plastic cups just in case of breakage. I'm not sure if it's possible to bring your own due to hygienic reasons. There is a sprint water source where you can grab water and it's most likely possible to use your own container there. The catch is just trying to make sure you don't get your container wet with lagoon water and the container definitely has to be non-glass. Post lagoon, bring a reusable plastic bag to put your wet clothes in. You won't have time to dry them off so be prepared before grabbing a plastic bag.
Iceland is beautiful and it would be nice for it to remain that way. With the influx of tourists coming in though, waste is going to be inevitable, but we all need to be mindful that even if our stay is temporary, our trash can remain forever. Let's leave this place beautiful so that the next set of visitors can find inspiration.
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