The most beautiful countries also tend to be the most conscientious when it comes to taking care of the natural environment. Most visitors to Croatia are immediately impressed by the country’s air quality, water cleanliness, and unspoiled landscapes and seascapes.
However, with the rise in the number of supermarkets selling pre-packaged goods, waste management is an ever-increasing problem, especially on the islands. The state is trying to make the public more aware of the need to reduce waste and to recycle.
In 2006, Croatia’s Ministry for Environmental Protection introduced a policy that has eliminated virtually 100 percent of glass and plastic-bottle litter in the country. Under the plan, people can bring any glass or plastic beverage bottle to any market larger than 200 sq. m. (2,153 sq. ft.) and they’ll receive 50 lipa, or half a kuna (approximately 6kn to the U.S. dollar), for each bottle returned, even if they purchased the drink at another store.
It is not unusual to see people searching garbage bins for bottles to return, and collecting them in big plastic bags. In fact, some bottle collectors are so keen they’ll watch over as you drink from a bottle so they can take it as soon as you’ve finished.
The success of the program has been dramatic. Croatia estimates that more than two billion bottles have been collected since the return policy went into effect—that’s virtually every bottle sold in the country. Consequently, it is extremely rare to see glass or plastic bottles marring the landscape anywhere in Croatia, with none on the beach, in the rivers, or on the streets. Bonus: Many new jobs have been created in the recycling industry thanks to the program.Blue Flag Beaches
The Blue Flag is an exclusive eco-award given to beaches and marinas that meet strict criteria for both water quality and environmental management. It was introduced in 1987 and sets common standards of good management across Europe. Croatia prides itself on the number and quality of its Blue Flag beaches and marinas, which totaled 117 in 2014.
To earn a Blue Flag, a facility has to pass several tests. Water quality is sampled 20 times in summer and must reach the higher of two standards set in the organization’s Bathing Water Directive. Beach management criteria include cleanliness, wheelchair access, dog control, first aid, safety, and environmental information. Marina management criteria include provisions for information about the environment, adequate containers for trash and special waste, clean toilets and washing facilities, and safety equipment. Beaches and marinas are monitored both before and during the award year to ensure that all criteria are being fulfilled and that high standards are being maintained. For more information go to www.blueflag.org.
In May 2009, Croatia issued a total smoking ban in all public places, including cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs. (The government backpedaled on the directive four months later, after small business owners complained they were being ruined en masse.) The ban is now optional for smaller establishments; others can accommodate smokers as long as they provide a private, separately ventilated space for them. But in a country where almost everyone smoked just five years ago, this is progress.
Birds & Bees
Croatia fiercely protects its natural resources and wildlife. It maintains eight national parks, and countless arboretums, botanical gardens, wetlands, and animal habitats. Bird-watchers in Croatia delight in multiple opportunities to observe a variety of feathered phenoms.
The Lonjsko Polje Nature Park in north-central Croatia is home to numerous wetlands and bird sanctuaries. The historic settlement of Čigoć and villages in the surrounding area not only comprise habitats for hundreds of species of insects, fish, frogs, and birds (including Čigoć’s famous storks), they also protect collections of ethnographic artifacts, including chimney-free houses made of centuries-old timbers.
The Kopački Rit Nature Reserve in Slavonia on Croatia’s eastern border is the country’s most fascinating wetland. Besides huge bird populations, the area is beginning to attract cyclists, hikers, and wine lovers thanks to the redevelopment of bike trails, removal of land mines, and a rebirth of the region’s vast vineyards.
The Adriatic Dolphin Project has research centers on the islands of Lošinj and Vis, working to study and protect the population, ecology, genetics, acoustics, and habitats of bottlenose dolphins and other cetaceous species of the Adriatic. This is an E.U. Phare project, and it includes a marine education center on Lošinj with permanent and temporary exhibits, interactive multimedia presentations, lectures, and education programs for visitors. Go to www.blue-world.org for more information.
Hotels are gradually taking steps to protect the environment, not least because claiming to be eco-friendly has become seen as a smart marketing ploy.
Almost all the bigger hotels in Croatia have installed smart rooms with on-demand electricity that works only if you insert your key card in a central slot. In a bid to reduce unnecessary machine-washing, many hotels no longer replace all the bath towels daily. If you want a towel replaced, you should leave it on the bathroom floor—if you hang it up to dry, the maid will presume that you are happy to reuse it.
The Radisson BLU in Dubrovnik was built with a green roof and an HVAC system that is cooled by the ocean. The Kempinski Adriatic uses nothing but stored rainwater to keep its 18-hole golf course green. The hotel also grows its own herbs for use in its restaurants.
Agritourism (working farms offering accommodation and/or meals) is another growing sector of Croatian hospitality. Travelers can enjoy an eco-conscious experience in a rural environment, with meals prepared from local seasonal produce, much of which is organic.
An excellent resource for booking eco-friendly accommodation is the U.K.-based group Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com).
During the Yugoslav era (1945–1991), hydroelectric power was developed in Croatia, and it still provides a considerable proportion of the country’s energy needs. Since 2004, Croatia has also embraced wind power to produce energy—in Dalmatia, most notably on the island of Pag, you’ll see wind turbines dotting the horizon. With its sunny climate, there is also potential for further developing solar power in Croatia.
The sustainable travel industry in Croatia is in its infancy, but conservation and environmental management are not. Croatia always has taken care of its land, water, and air, and all indications are that it will continue to do so.
General Resources for Green Travel
In addition to the resources for Croatia listed, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel. For a list of even more sustainable resources, as well as tips and explanations on how to travel greener, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
* Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravel.org) also promotes ethical tourism practices, and manages an extensive directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
* In the U.K., Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk) works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO; www.aito.com) is a group of specialist operators leading the field in making vacations sustainable.
* In Canada, www.greenlivingonline.com offers extensive information on how to travel sustainably, including a travel and transport section. It also profiles the best green shops and services in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
* In Australia, the national body that sets guidelines and standards for eco-tourism is Ecotourism Australia(www.ecotourism.org.au).
* Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), and TerraPass (www.terrapass.org) provide info on “carbon offsetting,” for balancing out the greenhouse gas emitted during flights.
* For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org). For information about the ethics of swimming with dolphins, visit Whale and Dolphin Conservation (us.whales.org).
* Volunteer International (www.volunteerinternational.org) has a list of questions to help you determine the intentions and the nature of a volunteer program. For general info on volunteer travel, visit www.goabroad.com/volunteer-abroad and www.idealist.org.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.