Could tourist maps be reused?
You know the paper maps you receive at sites such as The Forbidden City, Teotihuacan, Disneyland or mountain bike trails? The maps you pour over when traversing London or Paris, or when trying to extricate yourself from a Medina in Morocco.
Actually, a map won’t help you escape the labyrinth of a Medina in Morocco – I tried. A savvy local boy is a more reliable guide, as long as he is sufficiently compensated upon exit.
In what condition is the map when you leave?
It is crumpled and covered in scribbles, circles and arrows? Is the map torn, just as your children are torn between the Vomitron roller coaster or the Whiplash dodgem cars?
Was it soaked by the playful dolphins at Seaworld, or sweat stained by the tropical heat in Chichen Itza?
If so, it will simply have to be thrown out.
Or, is it still in good condition? Is it unmarked, unstained and legible? Did you even manage to refold the map to its original folded state? If so, well done.
A map in good condition could be reused, and a reuse system could be introduced at tourist sites to allow and encourage visitors to leave their maps for a future visitor.
Tourists could leave their map in a box when exiting the complex. They can keep the map as a souvenir or place the map in the box. Once the map becomes unusable, it could be thrown into the recycling bin.
The maps could also be left in deposit boxes at hotels and accommodation providers, or at major transport terminals, before being returned to specific sites or visitor information centres.
Does this already exist?
I have never seen this system applied at any popular tourist site I have visited. I love to travel, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit 43 countries, but I’ve never seen a tourist map recycling system in place. My internet search indicated that it does not happen anywhere in the world. Did I miss something, does anyone know if it exists, or has anyone tried to implement the system?
The closest system I have seen is the very informal exchange of maps, along with travel information, at backpacker hostels. Maps were either passed directly from traveller to traveller, or left lying around the common room for anyone to use. Does this still happen, or have flashpacking and online travel resources killed the impromptu conversations that were an integral part of backpacking?
Reuse is one of the central tenets of sustainability. Reusing tourist maps would reduce the number that are produced and the number of trees that are cut down. The system would also keep maps out of landfill.
In addition, does a map have to be in pristine condition? After all, they are normally referred to briefly before being placed back in a bag or a pocket. They’re not a university degree, a legal document or a certificate of achievement, and they can function perfectly if not in perfect condition.
How many maps end up in landfill?
I don’t know the number, but it must be a lot. Think about the number of tourists (pre-COVID-19) who visit popular sites every year, and the number of maps that are taken and which simply end up in the bin. I’ve done it myself – because I’ve never seen a formal option of reusing my maps.
A major impediment to this plan is COIVD-19 and the post-COVID travel reality. Many service providers and health authorities are likely to be reluctant to allow such an exchange of physical objects between many random people, for fear of spreading disease. This is reasonable. However, if it is safe enough to travel, it will be safe enough to exchange tourist maps.
Paperless guides were growing in popularity even before COVID-19. Many upper-range hotels throughout the world were actually giving their guests a phone upon check-in which is programmed with a host of local information as well as a local SIM card and limited credit. This was driven by customer service, convenience and marketing as much as environmental sustainability, but it is just one indication of a move towards paperless tourism.
Conversely, many tourist providers and tourist sites have developed apps which contain the same information that is provided on paper maps, and this may reduce the production of paper maps. That said, many smaller or more remote sites, especially in developing countries, lack the requisite technology to transition to an app.
Other forms of recycling
Social media is awash with artworks featuring recycled tourist maps, and many of them look fantastic. Creativity and sustainability have long complemented each other. However, the focus of the article is the reuse of maps at the site at which they are used.
Easy does it
If this system were implanted and if it were to succeed, it would have to be simple. Modern humans expect everything to be simple – some people can’t do anything without an app. Furthermore, people on holiday are taking a break from thinking, planning and working and don’t want to have to make an extra effort just to recycle a map. Providers would have to make the system visible, multi-lingual, accessible and user-friendly.
I don’t see why it can’t happen.