Love Our National Parks? Your Summer Road Trip Can Help Save Them

National Parks are under siege - from garbage. In 2016, Subaru used their zero landfill initiative plan to help three pilot parks reduce waste. Let's see how it's working.

National Parks
Join Subaru to help save National Parks like Arches in Utah. Photo: Terri Marshall for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Subaru is committed to saving our National Parks

More than 312 million visits were recorded at national parks in 2022, which is a wonderful number, but not when it comes to protecting our parks from ecological damage. Specifically, we are talking trash – all the garbage that we leave behind after our visit to the parks. At Yosemite, Grand Teton and Denali, the parks’ collective 7 million visitors deposited 16.6 million pounds of waste in 2 015. 

This is a heavy tax to pay for all the delicate ecological systems adjacent to the waste dumps that the parks utilize. There was concern that these dumps would need to expand their square footage as more people visit and deposit even more waste in each park. Subaru became concerned too, and the very next year, the car company brought its Zero Landfill initiative to these three national parks in a pilot program to see how it would impact the landscapes. 

National Parks

Subaru has a history of supporting the National Parks with donations of Outbacks for park rangers. Photo: NPS

Showing love to National Parks by reducing waste

Subaru, the car brand that has adopted ‘love’ as its marketing message has a firm commitment to saving America’s National ParksAfter integrating the pilot program, each park has adopted individual strategies and initiatives to further its goals.

At Yosemite, a broad campaign to protect wildlife as well as the environment has been executed. The park has bulked up on its recycling infrastructure and now offers an expanded variety of recycling containers that allow guests to sort anything from biodegradable tableware to bear repellent. Recommendations to all visitors to bring refillable and rechargeable items to reduce the amount of trash are also having a positive impact.

At Grand Teton, it was determined that 40% of the park’s waste is compostable. A compost pilot program was installed in 2021 in conjunction with the opening of Teton County’s first composting facility. Their goal is to divert 60% of all incoming waste in the park by 2030. In 2021, that percentage was sitting right around 40%, so they are well on their way.

Finally, at Denali, composting, recycling and engagement are the name of the game. They’ve created a hashtag named #DontFeedtheLandfill, and have diligently worked to reduce the 321 tons of park garbage sent to the landfill in 2016 to 182 tons in 2019. And prior to composting, food waste was 40% of the waste sent to the landfill. In 2020, 1,058 pounds of usable compost was made available to park staff for gardening. 

Bringing zero landfill expertise to our national treasures

In 2000, Subaru engineered a program to recycle all its assembly plant waste; by 2005 the Zero Landfill program had the company recycling 99.99% of waste generated at its plants, as well as implementing other sustainability initiatives. The initiative was affected by understanding how to ‘stream’ waste by sorting, repurposing, and proper disposal. In addition to designated collection bins, the company maintains an education, collection and sorting process that keeps the stream moving.

National Parks

Recycling bins at a Subaru plant. Photo: Subaru

Digging through garbage to better understand the issues

For the National Parks pilot program, the goal was to understand what visitors brought to the parks, what was discarded, how to create disposal streams and to engage park visitors to carry most waste out themselves.

Subaru started by paying people to dig through the garbage and find out what people threw away. According to Subaru’s Michael McHale, the biggest challenges are plastic and glass bottles, which made up half of the waste Subaru discovered. Natural and organic food waste is an issue, too, as is the waste that concessioners are responsible for. Subaru recommended a focus on messaging, packaging solutions and sorting as ways to help park managers, visitors and concessioners leave nothing but a beautiful vista in their wakes.

National Parks

The National Parks Adventure IMAX movie is a great way to experience 40 parks in an afternoon.

Can’t visit a park this summer? Subaru’s got ya there, too

For those of us who won’t be able to make a visit to these three National Parks — or any of the other stunning natural parks — Subaru partnered with film maker Greg MacGillivray and MacGillivray Freeman films to produce National Parks Adventure, an IMAX movie. Narrated by Robert Redford and shot in 40 national parks, the movie lets you soar above the peaks, dazzle under the stars and hang from massive icicles, all while you snack on popcorn and sip a cool beverage from the comfort of your favorite chair. Just be sure to carry out those containers and dispose of them properly when you leave.

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss