Circle Economy Foundationnews
Published on: 
February 9, 2024

Circular Balears explores pathways towards building a circular tourism system

Celebrated for their classic Mediterranean natural environment and culture, the Balearic Islands (Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca and Formentera) welcome scores of tourists yearly, hosting 16.4 million visitors in 2022 alone. The tourism sector accounts for roughly 40% of the autonomous region’s GDP, but also requires the supply and treatment of different resources, and the political, regulatory and financial support from various entities and institutions. All these elements interact with the local society and with the environment to make up the tourism system, which is a primary driver for transforming the Islands’ economy. To reconcile the goals of economic development and environmental protection, the Balearic Islands have the ambition to become the first circular tourist destination in the world. Together with Fundació Impulsa Balears, we examined practical steps to achieve this goal. 

The biggest challenges to a circular economy in the Balearic Islands are consumption habits, lack of infrastructure and current regulations. The linear tourism system encourages overconsumption which many holidaymakers take for granted. This results in negligent water use, avoidable food waste and excessive use of private cars. Moreover, the islands lack solid waste management facilities and renewable energy infrastructure, and local regulations still largely favour linear models. 

Our analysis identified five key focus areas where circular solutions can have the most impact. These are Water, Energy, Materials, Food and Mobility. The report also shows how these focus areas interact with the Terrestrial and marine environment. In particular, it examines their impact on the land and sea and how better management of the terrestrial and marine environment can unlock the circular opportunities of each strategic direction. 

For a more circular tourism system, the Islands should focus on optimising water consumption, making it more efficient and increasing its high-value reuse. This involves reducing water use, recycling grey water, as well as creating enabling infrastructure to replenish and cycle water flows. 

Most of the energy powering the Balearic Islands comes from fossil fuels. In a circular tourism system, the region's natural resources—like sun and wind—generate renewable energy, ensuring a clean and steady supply. 

The transition towards a circular food system must centre on sustainable agricultural practices and food self-sufficiency. It will also involve a shift in consumer habits, as well as better distribution and packaging schemes to cut value loss and food waste.

Currently, the tourism system is highly dependent on material imports while generating tonnes of waste. Switching to a circular economy would imply containing material consumption through Product-as-a-Service schemes and reuse initiatives, for example. Moreover, the region is advised to develop recycling facilities to close material flows. 

To create a circular mobility, the tourism sector should optimise logistics to cut travel time, promote electric cars and shared mobility, such as carsharing and public transport, and incentivise micro-mobility options like bicycles and electric scooters. 

The tourism system’s circular transition must be led by both the public and private sectors. This will include the development of new business models and mobilising private investment to achieve impact at scale. 

Read the full Circular Balears report to discover pathways for circular tourism:

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