We have been traveling to Iceland once or twice a year between the months of May and September since 1991.
With the recent influx of tourists, we have noticed a major increase in roadside litter. Areas around parking and picnic sites have been especially hard hit with not only plastic and paper litter, but also toilet paper and human feces. "You Drive It" Campers, rented by tourists, are parked at many of these picnic areas as well as off the main road at various locations. Many tourists seem to consider it their right to camp at any pull off where a home is not located. Many private landowners and towns have had to post NO CAMPING signs on their property. It is obvious that they are irritated by the current situation.
We have developed friendships with numerous Icelandic citizens, and they realize that this is a problem, but they are at a loss as to what to do about it.
As long time tourists who love Iceland, we believe something must be done, and soon, because things will only worsen at a rapid rate. We hate to say it, but the beauty and pristine Icelandic environment will deteriorate and will become less attractive to many. People come from many different cultures, and respect for the environment is not a high priority in many of these cultures. We have taken numerous walks and hikes off the main road, and it is not unusual to come upon toilet paper and human feces. Those poor sheep that roam freely also must deal with this mess.
We have a few suggestions that Icelandic authorities should consider in an attempt to protect the pristine nature of the country.
1) Pass a law that requires all airline passengers to pay an environmental fee (significant enough to hire a number of people in each district) to be used toward keeping the land in a pristine state.
2) A separate environmental fee should also be part of the cost of renting a car, camper or passage on a bus tour, as well as Hotel Rooms, Air B and B, Camping, etc. accommodations.
Moneys generated from these fees and any additional government assistance used to attack this issue should be used to hire an environmental group in charge of keeping Iceland clean. Funds could be distributed and managed by local governments. Paid environmental monitors could solicit volunteers (there probably would be many) to adopt a section of highway or a picnic area to keep clean. An Adopt A Highway and Picnic Area has worked in many other places.
3) Covered trash barrels could be placed at each picnic area, but that would be problematic. They would most likely be abused, and would have to be emptied and cleaned around, on a daily basis.
4) When one travels by airline, there are videos on safety. There should also be a video explaining the importance of protecting Iceland's fragile environment. It is difficult to change people's habits, BUT ICELAND HAS GOT TO TRY!
5) Car, camper, other vehicle rental agencies should stress to clients the importance of protecting the land. They SHOULD NOT stress that you can camp anywhere and if you must go to the bathroom, just go behind a big rock and leave your deposits. CLEAN UP YOUR MESS AND TAKE IT WITH YOU!
This is not a fun subject to address, but the future of Iceland's environment is at a crossroads. Iceland is encouraging more and more airlines to land, which results in larger numbers of tourists. This is happening so fast, that the infrastructure has not kept up with this change.
PLEASE DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS! THE SOLUTIONS ARE NOT EASY BUT IT HAS TO BE ADDRESSED. With projections for tourism to only increase with every year, the problems facing this wonderful country will become insurmountable very soon.
Paul and Cindy Kaplan