“Everything we do, we try to do it thinking about our impact on the environment, and by being our guest, you also take part in our journey”
Says on a sign on the bulletin board at Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel - one of HI Iceland’s 33 properties.
And even though I was only a guest at the hostel for less than 48 hours, I certainly felt HI Iceland’s deep commitment to sustainability from the moment I walked in the front door.
They use environmentally friendly paper products and cleaning products
The first thing I did after arriving at the hostel was duck inside the ground floor bathroom to add some layers of clothing - a blizzard had blown in that morning, and the short walk from the bus stop left me very cold and damp. Right away I noticed a Nordic Ecolabel (“Swan label”) on each of the dispensers for soap, toilet paper and paper towels clearly showing the products used were environmentally friendly.
They charge for take away cups and donate the proceeds to an NGO
While waiting for the storm to pass, I purchased some tea to warm up. As incentive for guests to use their own mugs, there was a small charge to get a “take away cup” (I wish this was more common in the U.S., where single-use cups are the norm). Fifty percent of the revenue from this fee is donated to Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association.
They sell Mooncups
Right on the front desk - where I stopped to ask for a map and leave my bag until check in - sits a display of Mooncups for sale. Mooncups are a zero-waste alternative to pads and tampons, and since I’ve never seen them for sale at a hostel or hotel before, I was quite impressed. (Not only are these cups environmentally friendly, they are good for travelers because they save money, take up less space and don’t leave you scrambling to find feminine products in countries where they can’t easily be purchased.)
They have plenty of clearly labeled recycling and compost containers
After enjoying my tea and breakfast, I was thrilled to find containers right by the front door that made it easy for me to recycle and compost the waste from my meal (Confession: I’ve previously carried cans and bottles home with me in my suitcase when I couldn’t find a recycling container while traveling). There were three buckets side by side - one for plastic, one for cans and bottles, and one for compost. There also were clear photos on top showing the kinds items that were appropriate for each - great for guests who might not be familiar with this process or don’t speak English very well. It was convenient to have another set of buckets outside my room as well.
They plant trees to offset guests’ carbon emissions
June 5 is World Environment Day, which celebrates global environmental awareness and action. An initiative of the UN Environmental Programme, it’s celebrated in 100 countries around the world - particularly in Iceland, where it’s a national holiday. In honor of this day last year, HI Iceland planted 1,200 trees to offset the carbon emission produced by guests at all three Reykjavik hostel locations in 2016. Guests also purchased 88 additional trees.
They ask guests to drink the tap water and not buy bottled water
The popularly of bottled water has had disastrous consequences for our planet. It’s unfortunately routine for tourists to buy bottled water when they’re traveling because it’s convenient, and they’re afraid of getting sick. I always travel with a reusable water bottle, so I was excited to see a sign right over the sink reminding me that Icelandic water is among the purest in the world - you can drink it right from the tap, and you don’t need a filter. (The sign even reminds you to turn the taps off and not waste this precious resource.).
They encourage car sharing
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time during my brief trip to explore outside of Reykjavik. While looking at the bulletin board in the hallway, I noticed the hostel makes it easy, for guests who want to save money and travel more responsibly throughout the country. There was a “car sharing” sign posted along with a sign-up sheet for drivers and passengers to connect.
They’re helping stop the use of plastic bags
Did you know a plastic bag takes more than 100 years to disintegrate? July 3 is International Plastic Bag Free Day, which draws attention to this troubling fact, with the goal of creating a plastic-bag-free world. On this day last year, everyone checking into one of HI Iceland’s locations received a reusable bag made from 100% organic cotton.
They help find new homes for books and personal items
At the end of the hallway on every floor, there’s a shelving unit. On the top half is where guests can leave the book they’ve finished or pick up a new book (I love hostel book swaps, but my stay was too short to take advantage of this). On the bottom half, is where guests can leave behind the personal items - shampoo, soap, contact solution - they don’t need anymore. Instead of these things ending up in the trash, they can be used by other guests who need them. (I scored some hand warmers!).
They encourage guests to take The Icelandic Pledge
The Icelandic Pledge is right on the HI Iceland website. By signing it, guests commit to respecting the land, the wildlife and other people while they’re in the country.
Even though my journey with Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel was a short one, it felt quite good to be able to be part of HI Iceland’s impressive efforts to preserve and protect the natural beauty of both Iceland and our planet.
Is a hostel’s commitment to sustainability efforts important to you when you travel?
Have you seen any other creative sustainable efforts at other hostels?
Brianne Miers is a Boston-based travel blogger who "working to see the world" by balancing my career with a life of travel and helping others do it too.
Check out her work at A Traveling Life