Grand Teton: Inspiring Sustainability

2/26/2016

Spring 2016

Clouds traverse a pale dawn sky above the Teton Range, floating northward in dreamy hues of gray-blue, luminous pink, and amber-white, all reflected in the placid water of the Snake River. It is an image at once serene and shocking, as is appropriate for this geological offspring of violent seismic upheaval and infinitely patient glacial sculpting. The Teton’s jagged granite peaks in any light, at any time, sear the image of this landscape in deepest memory – it is unforgettable.

Trouble in Paradise

In the busiest tourist months, this otherwise quiet national park becomes a small city, with tens of thousands of people eager to witness that same heart-stopping beauty. With tourists follows waste – plastic bags, wine and water bottles, cigarette butts, propane canisters, aluminum cans, and all the trash that millions of travelers can create. Grand Teton is hardly alone; a waste conundrum has hit nearly every national park – with 100 million tons of waste produced annually.

Seeking Solutions

In May 2015, weeks after a similar mission at Yosemite National Park (see story in Drive Fall 2015), representatives from Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. (SIA), Subaru of America, Inc., the National Park Service (NPS), and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) gather in a room at Jackson Lake Lodge to collaborate on the next step of an ambitious new pilot program aimed at devising strategies to help the national parks work toward achieving zero-landfill status. Over the next few days, the group will tour the park to assess the current waste picture, but they begin by discussing what inspired them to take on this challenge.

For Kevin Schneider, deputy superintendent of the park, Grand Teton’s critical role in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is what is at stake. Unlike so many places in the modern world, the fabric of ecology in Grand Teton has not been significantly altered. “This is the world’s largest intact temperate ecosystem, and being better stewards of this special place is what we’re all about,” Schneider says. He and the rest of the NPS staff have a mission to preserve and protect this land, forever.

My first look at these mountains as a child planted a seed,” says Jackie Skaggs, public affairs officer for Grand Teton. “This landscape is part of my heart and soul.

Paying It Forward

Subaru is eager to help the NPS reach this goal. SIA was the first automotive manufacturing plant in the country to achieve zero-landfill status. It has a lot of best practices in place and sees an opportunity to pay forward what it has learned.

Dispose of your fishing line properly. Look for monofilament recycling stations where you fish or pack out line with the rest of your trash when you leave.
Dispose of your fishing line properly. Look for monofilament recycling stations where you fish or pack out line with the rest of your trash when you leave.

Pulling Together

Sustainability is a key part of that long-term mission. Waste reduction must be a priority, and park management, visitors, and the surrounding Jackson Hole community will play a central role in any strategy. Fortunately, Wyoming’s Teton County recently adopted a lofty zero-landfill goal. The county recycles or reuses about 34 percent of its waste, while the rest is shipped 100 miles away to a landfill. “It’s expensive and it’s not environmentally sustainable,” says Heather Overholser, who manages Teton County’s waste and recycling efforts. The community is committed to change, with a goal of diverting 60 percent of waste away from landfills by 2030.

Bear-resistant containers at a Grand Teton waste sorting facility.
Bear-resistant containers at a Grand Teton waste sorting facility.
A great gray owl hunts from the branch of an aspen in Grand Teton National Park.
A great gray owl hunts from the branch
of an aspen in Grand Teton National Park.

Sharing Knowledge

Grand Teton is responsible for a large portion of the county’s total waste – from hundreds of thousands of plastic bags each year to 4.5 tons of food waste per day in peak season. To get a better handle on the local waste management infrastructure, the group tours the Teton County recycling facility. Recycling has come a long way since it began there 20 years ago, and today the facility takes all of the traditional recyclables as well as textiles, bike tires, propane and bear spray canisters. Recently, the facility found a way to recycle the plastic packaging wrap commonly used to protect items in shipping.

Discover what to bring when visiting our national parks: drive.subaru.com/fall15-yosemite.

Building a Legacy

With a roadmap in place, all that remains is time and a lot of hard work. “We’re talking about building a zero-waste culture,” explains Denise Coogan, environmental partnership manager at Subaru of America, Inc. It won’t be easy. But Coogan has seen this transformation firsthand at the Indiana plant, and she is optimistic. “Most people do care what they leave for the next generation,” she says, “and everyone wants to be a part of something bigger.” 

Visit subaru.com/environment for updates on the progress of this important initiative.

Arrowleaf balsamroot on the banks of the Snake River.
Arrowleaf balsamroot on the banks of the Snake River.