I recently stayed at the nice big hotel in Baxter. I had great time and spent around $360 to make sure that my two 7-year-old travelers could scream a bunch on the water slide. I love water parks and I love traveling. I'd also like to feel like, in my travels, whether in our precious north country, with the 450-plus lakes in the Brainerd/Gull Lake area, or internationally, that I am not destroying the environment with every breath at every turn.
I didn't get that sense at the water slide hotel. Instead, I am sure that we produced great deal of garbage just from the breakfast buffet plastic - all of it non-recyclable, and all of it going into a landfill in the Brainerd area. Let's say that the four of us ate well, used Styrofoam plates, bowls, cups, then added in extra plastic glasses and tableware from our room - that contributed a lot of garbage to the local ecosystem, and the other 70 rooms just added to that. It turns out that there is no such thing as throwing "away" our garbage. "Away" is still frequently right in the area, or at least on the same planet. I think it's worth protecting our beautiful North woods and the planet.
Consider this: American waste, or indirect contributions to waste is almost one million pounds of materials per person per year. This includes 3.5 million pounds of carpet landfill, 28 billion pounds of food discarded from the home, and 360 billion pounds of organic and inorganic chemicals used in manufacturing and processing. This is the equivalent of 50 trillion pounds per year, excluding wastewater (which, if added in, comes to around 250 trillion pounds).
That is tremendously irresponsible, and in the north woods, we can do something about it.
The Brainerd area hosts 120 separate lodging properties, including 69 resorts and 27 hotels. That is a lot of garbage, electricity, and water and also a lot of potential for change. At present, a few of these businesses are grappling with "greening up," but we really need to step up to the plate on this one. Particularly since our north woods population doubles during the summer months as tourists come to the beautiful area within which we live. Tourists don't come to see heaps of garbage, and all of us would like to preserve the water quality and beauty of this environment for future generations.
There are a number of great examples and incentives to change bad habits. It turns out that the Minnesota Legislature has just passed a law addressing green tourism, and, indeed, sustainable tourism is a booming business internationally. The Minnesota travel green program will recognize tourism businesses that make a commitment to reduce their environmental impact, give the state and hospitality business participants an environmental marketing edge, promote smart business practices, reduce costs, educate travelers, promote Minnesota travel, and protect the environment. The non-profit Green Routes program promotes and provides technical assistance to locally owned, sustainable businesses through the state. And next month an international ecotourism conference will take place in nearby Wisconsin. We don't have to look far to ideas and examples.
Then there is the economics of being efficient, green and thinking about the future.
The Mohegan Sun, the Mohegan Tribe's casino in Connecticut, is using alternative energy, having purchased two PC25TM fuel cell systems. Each cell produces 200 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 900,000 BTUs, which will be used for space heating and hot water. While traditional generating systems create as much as 25 pounds of pollutants to generate l,000 kilowatt-hours of power, the same produced by fuel cells equates to less!
I'd like to know what hotels in the area, might be interested in doing, and how I and others who are concerned about our north woods could support you in promoting a better partnership with the environment. I am fully aware of the infrastructure needs, for instance of having a dish washer for your breakfast buffet, but this sort of employment of local people and reduction in the waste stream could set a precedent, and earn your hotel some good promotional credits with some of us (whose numbers are increasing) that are interested in these issues.
I am pretty much a world class traveler, having been from Amsterdam to Brainerd in the past year, and having stayed everywhere from the Boundary Waters to a five star hotel in California. I believe we should have the best in northern Minnesota.
WINONA LaDUKE is a two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate who lives on the White Earth Reservation. Educated at Harvard, she is the author of five books and directs the White Earth Land Recovery Project.
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