Waste in National Parks

Exploring visitor attitudes, values, and behaviors regarding waste in national parks


For most park and protected area managers, balancing resource protection with the provision of recreational opportunities is an ongoing challenge. Given the recent substantial increase in national park visitation in the United States, impacts on visitor experience and ecological conditions have correspondingly increased. A specific concern for many park and protected area managers is waste management and/or generation of waste by visitors, park operations, and concessionaires, and the impact it has on both protected areas and adjacent communities. Each year, over 100 million pounds of waste is generated in national parks through a variety of means including park operations, by visitors to parks, and other sources (Pierno, 2017). This is not entirely representative of all waste generating activities in parks and does not completely account for waste generated in gateway communities or by park concessions. Though the NPS promotes visitation and enjoyment of parks, the agency must provide sustainable parks now and for future generations. The primary goal of this study was to explore specific visitor attitudes and behaviors towards waste disposal and recycling in select national parks. This was done through direct visitor observations paired with visitor surveys at Grand Teton National Park (GRTE), Yosemite National Park (YOSE), and Denali National Park and Preserve (DENA) to better understand how park managers can achieve waste management goals through effective educational and management strategies.


Lawhon, B., Taff, B. D., Schwartz, F. G., & Miller, Z.D., Newman, P. (2018). Exploring Visitor Attitudes, Values, and Behaviors Regarding Waste in National Parks. Report Prepared for Subaru of American and the National Park Service. Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.