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Could packing extra items for staycations to save on waste help save our ‘buckling’ Highland and Islands beauty spots?

As visitors flock to small, picturesque holiday spots in places such as Skye, it is not just overcrowding that is becoming an issue for locals, it is also what is being left behind.

Tourist friends on a top of mountains in a Scottish Highlands. Scotland nature. Tourist people enjoy a moment in a nature.
Beauty spots like Skye are facing growing problems with waste. Image: Shutterstock

They say with fame comes great responsibility – and the beautiful and windswept landscapes throughout the Highlands and Islands have gained worldwide attention in spades.

And it is certainly well deserved.

From the array of stunning coastline to Portree’s postcard colours to the iconic magic of Glenfinnan and Glen Brittle’s Fairy Pools – beauty is not hard to find.

Toss in the controversial North Coast 500 (NC500) route and the north of Scotland has become a tourism hotspot.

the Kilt Rock geological feature on the east coast of Skye near Staffin.
The Kilt Rock geological feature on the east coast of Skye near Staffin. Image: Sandy McCook/ DC Thomson.

With Ross and Cromarty, Caithness and Sutherland being named in the Lonely Planet’s top 10 worldwide regions to visit in 2024, it appears this will not be diminishing anytime soon.

However, this attention has resulted in a growing and stinking burden. One which smaller rural and island communities are struggling to shoulder.

Communities looking for solutions

What at first might start as a needed takeaway caffeine fix, a quick bottle of water or a 14-inch treat takeout pizza very quickly becomes disposable waste.

In more remote and smaller communities this pile up becomes obvious much quicker and is harder to get rid of.

Especially in places where their infrastructure is already struggling with the influx of people and the cost of picking up bins is higher.

This is certainly the case in Skye and Lochalsh which is visited by around 750,000 people every year.

Portree colourful houses in with a stormy grey sky
Portree is a popular tourist destination. Image: Shutterstock.

With the tourist season getting longer each time, the waste from businesses and tourists is becoming unsustainable.

To try and tackle the problem, local organisations hosted an event called Sustainable Skye to look at ideas on how to reduce and recycle rubbish.

Organised by SkyeConnect and Highland Community Waste Partnership, local residents and business owners came together to brainstorm.

‘There needs to be a change’

Emma Bee, community waste officer with Highland Community Waste Partnership and co-founder of The Selkie Collective in Broadford said the idea was not to give answers but work together to find them.

She said: “We felt it was really important because people are going to have to need to find some sort of solutions.

“They’re working towards the Net Zero idea and people need support with that.

Emma Bee outside in Skye with glasses and a beanie smiling for a selfie.
Emma Bee is community waste officer. Image: Emma Bee

“Particularly for Skye and Rasaay and Lochalsh, people are really over stretched in the high season.

“I think over the recent years there’s difficulties with the infrastructure. At times we’re sort of buckling under the pressure of it all really. There needs to be a change.”

The whole concept of reducing waste can seem overwhelming but Emma said it was more about the basic small steps.

For businesses, things like re-using cardboard to repackage other goods rather than sending it to landfill, refilling cleaning products or using re-useable takeaway containers could make a big difference to waste levels.

Could be as simple as bringing a water bottle

She said that residents, being surrounded by the beautiful countryside and spending time connecting with each other, adds to their desire to take care of it. Something which locals hope to pass on to tourists.

Emma added: “The whole of Scotland we’re surrounded beautiful landscapes and we need to try and preserve it and protect it.

Emma Bee and Amy Bentall founded the Selkie Collective.
Emma Bee (left) and Amy Bentall founded the Selkie Collective. Image: The Selkie Collective.

“When you’re on holiday and you have your takeaway containers or your water bottles, these are the places you can really make an impact.

“Maybe try to think about slowing down. Sit in to have your coffee instead of taking it away.

“I think it’s trying to shift the perspective of it being an inconvenience to just being a normal thing.”

Gina Adie, owner of Refillosophy, smiling with her arms crossed in front of the shop in Aberdeen.
Owner of Refillosophy in Aberdeen, Gina Adie. Image: Kath Flannery/ DC Thomson.

Conscious decisions help support locals

In the approach to cutting down on rubbish, starting small seems to be a key message.

Owner of Aberdeen’s Refillosophy, Gina Adie, admits even her store of goods can seem overwhelming to start with.

For those looking to try refilling containers, she advised people start with what they need for that week.

“Maybe your washing up liquid that you’re using has just run out and you’ve got the empty bottle,” she said.

“Give it a wash out, bring it into us and refill it.

“And just build it up bit by bit from there. You don’t need to rush out and buy lots of new containers to go and refill because that kind of defeats the whole purpose.”

These refillery stores can also help to cut back on food waste, a big contributor of carbon emissions as they allow customers to purchase the amount they need.

Inside Refillosophy in Aberdeen with dispensers and jars.
Inside Refillosophy in Aberdeen. Image: Kami Thomson/ DC Thomson.

With quite a few dotted around the Highlands, Gina said looking these up for holiday makers heading north can help lessen these problems communities are facing.

She said: “That’s the biggest thing you can do when you’re cutting back on wastage is just to make conscious decisions and start small.

“If there’s the possibility to buy from a local café with local produce do that even rather than just always going into the big supermarkets.

“Just think a little bit about whether what you’re spending is going to stay within that local community.”

Skye welcomes visitors

Alistair Danter, project manager at Skye Connect, said it was a good turn out at the event on Tuesday where they discussed some of the challenges they face.

Some of the biggest of these include carbon emissions and the remote location of many residents and businesses, like Alistair’s own Edinbane self catering.

Alistair Danter
Alistair Danter. Image: SkyeConnect

Attendees had the opportunity to listen to speakers like Laura Young known as Less Waste Laura and share solutions.

When asked about problems brought by tourism in the area, he said: “I think we welcome visitors to Skye but we ask them to respect the natural and cultural heritage that we have there and treat it as the golden asset that it is.”