The Lofoten Islands have gained immense popularity as a breathtaking vacation destination, attracting many tourists in recent years. With its stunning landscapes, unique charm, and vibrant fishing villages, it’s no wonder that people from around the world are drawn to this archipelago in Norway.
However, the surge in visitor numbers has brought about a set of challenges that need to be addressed to preserve the fragile environment of Lofoten. Issues such as limited parking options, wild camping in sensitive areas, and proper waste management, including human waste, have become pressing concerns.
As the demand for sustainable tourism practices grows, finding innovative solutions to protect Lofoten’s natural beauty becomes essential.
WHY DO WE WRITE AN ARTICLE ABOUT POOP BAGS
Hi guys, Radka and Ivar here! For those who do not know us, we are the faces behind the Guide to Lofoten page.
When we launched our website one of our primary goals was to bridge the gap between the residents of the islands and the tourists. While there is much information online about the attractions and reasons to choose Lofoten as a vacation destination, there is a need for more information available, particularly in English, regarding how tourism impacts our small communities.
We are compelled to raise awareness about the most pressing issues that Lofoten faces in relation to tourism and present them to you, the tourists, in the hope that it will foster a deeper understanding and encourage responsible actions.
It’s not surprising that as more people visit Lofoten, there is an increase in human feces along the hiking trails in (not only) in Lofotodden national park. The path leading to Kvalvika Beach is one of the busiest trails in the national park, and people often come there intending to wild camp on the beach. However, due to the lack of facilities on the beach, many campers resort to utilizing the surrounding area as their restroom.
A study was carried out by Norwegian researchers from NINA in 2021 to map the areas along the path and beach, where human and animal feces were found, and to assess the levels of E.coli bacteria in the streams at Kvalvika beach.
The water samples collected in August 2021 showed relatively high levels of E.coli bacteria in two out of three of the streams where samples were taken.
Rose Keller, a researcher at NINA, who conducted the study and who has previously studied visitor management in Denali National Park in Alaska, emphasizes the importance of understanding people’s behavior in nature. “We must understand people’s thought patterns and how they move in nature. Once we know that, we can determine which measures will work and what messages are most suitable,” says Keller.
She moved from the USA to Norway three years ago, bringing the idea of poop bags with her from her home country, where they became a preferred method for addressing human waste disposal in remote and environmentally sensitive areas.
❓WHAT IS A WAG BAG❓
A wag bag is a portable toilet kit designed for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers. It is a specially designed bag made of durable and leak-proof materials, typically with a double-layered construction.
The bag has an inner layer containing a mixture of gelling agents, enzymes, and odor-neutralizing substances. This helps minimizing odors and prevent leakage during transportation.
The bag’s outer layer is strong and secure, ensuring that the waste is safely contained.
The WAG bags are commonly used for human waste disposal in areas where traditional toilets are not available or appropriate, such as in wilderness areas, or big wall climbing.
According to Keller, tourists in Lofoten were positive about the idea when she conducted a survey last year. “Nine out of ten had never heard of poop bags for humans. Still, 75 percent said they would test them if they were free and available.”
On July 7, signs, a box with bags, and a waste container will be set up where the filled poop bags can be disposed of. Four hundred bags have been ordered, and the bags will be provided for free during the four-week testing period.
Ole-Jakob Kvalshaug, the national park manager in Lofotodden National Park, looks forward to testing the bags. This year he had to put up signs warning people against drinking water from the Kvalvika beach creeks due to the high concentration of E. coli bacteria.
The increase in bacteria is attributed to more human and animal feces in the area. This warning contrasts sharply with the rest of Norway, where drinking water from natural sources is typically considered safe.
Most visitors to the national park in Lofoten are foreigners, and Kvalshaug believes they will use wag bags if they receive proper information about the program. As for Norwegians, it remains to be seen if they will be equally cooperative.
“Norwegians could be slightly more challenging to convince to use the bags. Unfortunately, we cannot impose requirements on hikers in Norway as they do in the USA, where they have a different national park management system and more significant resources, so we must hope that people will be respectful guests,” says Kvalshaug.
Line Samuelsen, the managing director of Destination Lofoten, believes that the poo bags could eventually be available across Lofoten.
“If it works, we must elevate this to something bigger. It should be like, ‘this is how we do it in Lofoten.’ We need to create systems so good that people feel proud to use such a bag to protect nature,” says Line Samuelsen.
She believes people would be willing to pay to relieve themselves in nature, just as they pay to use toilets in cafes or shopping centers. However, establishing such acceptance will take some time, and people need to understand why these measures are being implemented.
But economics can be a challenge. In Norway, municipalities receive funding from the government based on the population, which is significantly lower than the number of tourists visiting each year.
Therefore, Samuelsen thinks the municipalities in Lofoten need more financial resources to cover the costs of the waste bags. “In the long run, it is possible that a tourist tax can help cover some of it.”
❓TOURIST TAX IN LOFOTEN❓
For a while now, Norway has been considering implementing a tourist tax to assist smaller municipalities in managing the challenges of mass tourism. Recently, the government has officially announced its plans to introduce this program, with the Lofoten islands selected as the pilot location for its implementation.
The tourist tax aims to generate revenue that can be used to support local infrastructure, tourism-related projects, and the preservation of natural and cultural heritage in the region. The collected funds may be utilized for initiatives like improving tourism facilities, maintaining hiking trails, promoting sustainable tourism practices, and enhancing visitor experiences.
However, a decision has yet to be made about how much the tax will be and how it will be collected.
This article is based on the Norwegian article “Lofoten blir først ut med bæsjeposer for mennesker” written by Susanne Skjåstad Lysvold & Kristin Thrane and published by NRK on June 13, 2022.
What are your thoughts on the utilization of human waste bags in Lofotodden National Park? Do you encounter similar challenges related to tourism in your country? What legislative measures or solutions have been implemented in your region? Feel free to share your insights in the comments section!