Sustainable Travel in Iceland: Tips to Reduce Waste While Traveling
Updated: Apr 12
When on vacation, sustainable travel in Iceland is easier said than done. Or is it? By planning your trip and behaving responsibly, you can easily leave Iceland just as you found it when you got there. We give you the lowdown on which hotels and products are eco-friendly certified and recommend checking the local goods to make the most positive impact on your responsible travel in Iceland.
The greatest commodity of this amazing island is its nature. It draws tourists from all over the world, and even though they mean well (for the most part) visitors sometimes damage the very nature they have come to admire. Sustainable travel in Iceland has become the name of the game, and we made sure to get all the important bits of information to best prepare you for an eco-friendly vacation.
Background to Responsible Travel in Iceland
Sustainable travel in Iceland has become a big thing, which might not be breaking news to you as a responsible traveler. Caring about nature is not the norm, however, and the massive amounts of tourists in Iceland have a huge impact on the environment. Therefore, eco-friendly travel in Iceland is a must for nature to survive and thrive.
Iceland Tourism History
Excessive tourism in Iceland is a relatively new phenomenon and didn’t really develop until the beginning of the 2000s. Iceland went from having roughly 80 thousand visitors annually in the 1980s, to reaching more than two million visitors annually from 2017 to 2019. That is almost seven times the size of the country’s own population!
With hordes of visitors, movement and behavior needed to be regulated, and responsible travel in Iceland needed to become the norm. That’s why you’re not allowed to go off-road with your vehicle, off-path at some hiking trails, or pitch a tent wherever you want.
Eco-friendly Travel in Iceland
The key to responsible travel in Iceland is to make informed and conscious decisions. One of the important pieces of information has to do with timing. Most tourists visit Iceland in the middle of summer so working around that is a good starting point. Choosing to go in any of the other seasons will already help lighten the load on Icelandic nature.
Eco-friendly Accommodation in Iceland
Another important factor is deciding how and where to stay. Reducing your overall use of resources is hard when you don’t have full control of your accommodation (why a good campervan vacation is a viable option). On a camping vacation, you oversee your own impact and make 100% of your own choices to lower the stress on the environment. Driving economically will also aid your eco-friendly travel in Iceland.
If you rather want to stay in hotels and hostels, you can keep an eye out for the official certification for sustainable tourism: Vakinn. Accommodations with this certification will have proper environmental protection measures in place and will therefore make your stay as environmentally friendly as it possibly could be.
Blue Lagoon is a good example of an environmentally friendly accommodation option on the luxurious side, while Midgard Basecamp is a good option for the more adventurous visitors. Both are awarded by Vakinn for their environmental effort as well as general service, making them viable accommodation options for any happy camper!
Eco-friendly Travels in Iceland
If you’re not doing a campervan vacation, the best way to travel is by electric car. The charging spots are mostly in the cities, though, and the nationwide EV charging infrastructure isn’t completely developed, but you should be fine if you plan your journey carefully and stick to Ring Road 1. A hybrid car will be your second-best choice of transport if you want to be behind the wheels of your own adventure. You can take advantage of Iceland’s nationwide bus network as a good alternative if you don’t want to rent a car.
One key aspect when going for sustainable travel in Iceland is to take it slow. Ground yourself in the sturdy aura that Icelandic nature provides and take your good time on your travels. Vacation means getting rid of stress and rush. Rather make sure to park your campervan or motorhome rental on a spot and explore the immediate surroundings than constantly be on the move to see as much as possible in the shortest possible time.
If you have a hard time slowing down and taking your time, we suggest you take a long soak in one of the remote hot springs. You haven’t felt relaxation until you’ve soaked in a 38°C geothermal spring, surrounded by majestic mountains and nothing but nature.
Responsible Behavior in Iceland
To actively work toward an eco-friendly society, Iceland (like many other countries) officially adopted the “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle” mantra. This slogan is easy to remember and highlights the foundation of how you should approach consumer goods and services in Iceland.
Reducing the number of resources you consume is the first and best step to take to reduce your environmental impact. To have sustainable travel in Iceland, though, it is often enough to simply buy locally and ask the seller where the materials come from and if the product has been produced responsibly. Most sellers are likely to take an extra liking to you and give you a good story. Icelanders love stories.
A lot of goods and services will have different labels which indicate their level of environmental impact. Nordic ecolabeling is a well-known label in the Nordic countries, which indicates that the product it is labeled on has applied strict environmental requirements to each and every one of that product’s life cycle stages. If you can’t find locally sourced and sustainable, go for certified sustainable instead!
When you are about to buy an item, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s made to last. Obviously, a candy bar will disappear quite quickly, but perhaps you can reuse a water bottle and take advantage of the extremely high-quality tap water in Iceland. The same goes for bags and containers – they always come in handy in the end.
Renting is also one of the better things you can do to have sustainable travel in Iceland. Whenever you need equipment for anything, you could either choose to bring your own and fly that across the North Atlantic, or you could rent it and save some effort and CO2 emissions.
Imagine that you’re going to one of the many amazing ski slopes, but bringing skis with you is going to require special baggage and extra weight. Rather save that money and environmental impact and rent it on-site instead. Less hassle, and more environmentally responsible! Iceland has a black belt in renting out quality gear for a myriad of activities, including skiing, fishing, kayaking, golfing, and whatever else you might need.
If you can’t avoid throwing away trash, you won’t have to look for long before you find a recycling station. Assuming you’re not out on a hike or in-between stops on the road, you will find that all cities and towns in Iceland take recycling very seriously. Recycling has been a part of everyday life for so long now that it is second nature to people.
This goes without saying, but if you’re out and about in nature, don’t throw away any trash. It doesn’t matter if it is organic or not, hold on to it until you get back to the campsite. This is one of those times when it pays to have kept a bag from the previous point. Voilà – the perfect trash bag.
Your trip begins when you have packed your bags and are ready to go. To have a vacation filled with sustainable travel in Iceland, you need to start by packing the right stuff and leaving the redundant things at home. Packing lightly is one easy way to lower your climate impact from your travels, so be sure to ask yourself if you really need a full suit, or a ball gown before braving the Icelandic nature. Pack only the essentials and see if you can rent the equipment you need when you arrive at your destination.
The very basics of responsible travel in Iceland come down to making fully conscious decisions and being informed of the best eco-friendly options you have. With a little know-how and will, this is an easy feat and can even be luxurious if you stay in the right places.
Four quick tips to sum things up and get you ready for sustainable travel in Iceland:
Plan your trip and follow the plan
Choose environmentally certified goods and services
Take it slow and don’t spend your entire vacation on the road
Reduce – Reuse – Recycle