Have you ever packed up at the end of your vacation, only to notice you’ve somehow accumulated a lot of, well, stuff? Beach books, sun hats, cans of soup, and other items you neither want nor need at home?
It happens all the time, says Diane Daniel, founder of Vacation Donations, a new not-for-profit online community resource based in Indian Rocks Beach. With a background in travel writing and many years’ experience of renting out her place in IRB, she has seen guests relinquish multiple bags’ worth of usable goods, often thinking they will simply “leave it for the cleaner.”
More often than not, that stuff simply gets tossed. With cleaners working in multiple apartments a day, she explains, there’s more left behind than they can use.
“Unless they’re planning on opening a convenience store,” she quips, “they aren’t going to want that!”
Haste Makes Waste
Daniel recalls a recent experience when she found an unusually large number of leftover items. Though she always tries not to be wasteful, this time she felt overwhelmed.
“I almost threw everything away!” she confesses. “But I stopped myself. I said, ‘What am I doing?’”
Instead, she put on her thinking cap.
“I looked up all the resources for taking different types of things left behind. Within two miles of where I was, I found some place where I could donate all the items. That made me really happy!”
Then the idea came to her: What if you could make it easier for vacationers to do the right thing?
Making the Connection
Traveling in North Carolina, Daniel had once seen a church group that set up a food drive to collect leftover nonperishables from guests checking out of beach rentals. It was a good concept, she thought, but one that only works if you have a small army of volunteers and a lot of time.
But putting the information about where to conveniently donate unwanted items into the hands of vacationers – and, better still, property owners and managers – might be the next step. She carefully constructed a Vacation Donations website with easy-to-find information on where to donate food, books, beach toys, and other commonly used items in or very near IRB. She also included information about recycling, where to rent rather than buy items, and other ways to help reduce waste.
Then came the fridge magnets. With a QR code leading back to donation information, they seemed a simple way for owners and property managers to help guests make the connection. Vacation Donations provides them free for the asking.
There are lots more ways to raise awareness, she says. How about posting a QR code near the elevators, with a bin to collect nonperishable food items? Or including a link and a reminder to donate in the checkout notes?
Ultimately, Daniel wants to see a total transformation in the way we think about our impact when we go on vacation. Property owners, she says, should have a plan for where leftover items go, and prospective renters should seek out or ask for reuse options – the way you might look for other services or amenities. As Pinellas County residents and businesses sent 455,000 tons of garbage to the landfill in 2021, this kind of intervention is critical for helping us reach our Zero Waste to Landfill by 2050 goal.
For now, Daniel is focused on helping Vacation Donations grow by adding donation information for communities beyond Indian Rocks Beach to the website.
“I haven’t conquered the world just yet,” she laughs. “Maybe I’ll start with Pinellas County.”
That’s an invasion I could get behind.