Each year, the global Plastic-free July movement raises awareness about the importance of reducing our dependence on plastic, especially single-use and disposable ones. A successful shift away from the convenience of single-use would not only mean we're using resources more wisely, but it would reduce the volume of plastic pollution finding its way into our fresh water and marine ecosystems.
As July draws to a close, we wanted to share some of the ways in which tourism businesses that are certified by Fair Trade Tourism innovate to find ways to eliminate single-use plastics. Their leadership results in reduced plastic pollution every month (not only in July ☺️) and they were happy to contribute a few of the solutions they have implemented over the years so that others might take a step along a similar path.
Preventing Ocean Pollution
The Dyer Island Conservation Trust is supported by FTT-Certified Marine Dynamics Shark Tours, Dyer Island Cruises, and the Marine Dynamics Academy, all of whom have the privilege of calling the seascape of Walker Bay their day-to-day "office". It's a privilege that they also see as a great responsibility, particularly with the awareness that 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into the ocean every day. Finding ways to capture this debris before it makes its way into the marine environment is one of many actions they take to reduce marine pollution.
Working in partnership with the Overstrand Municipality, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Marine Dynamics are installing a system of nets to catch debris at the point where storm drains empty into the ocean. The volumes of ocean-bound waste that are prevented from entering the marine system reduce negative impacts on marine wildlife dramatically and the statistics gathered feed into a public education campaigns about the environmental cost of discarding rubbish irresponsibly.
Visit their websites to learn more about this other high impact plastic pollution prevention initiatives they are driving. For example, their fishing line collection bin programme along South Africa's coastline that is keeping deadly fishing line out of marine wildlife habitat!
Giving Plastic Many Lives
Its remote location in the Drakenberg Mountains of KwaZulu Natal means that Sani Lodge Backpackers and its sister company Drakensberg Adventures have limited access to recycling facilities and responsible waste disposal options. As a result, they need to be particularly innovative about giving plastic a 2nd (and sometimes 3rd and 4th) life.
Their on-site indigenous plant nursery is a distribution hub for trees and plants from the local area. It is also the recipient of resource inputs from plastic used in their kitchen; yogurt containers (bought in bulk) are converted into pots for the propagation of indigenous seeds and cuttings. Yogurt pots are first pierced for adequate drainage, then get a bit of a facelift transformation thanks to some lead-free paint, and are filled with naturally aerated soil from mole hills on the property. Plant labels are then crafted by repurposing waste plastic into strips, enabling indigenous landscapers and gardeners to readily identify the species they're looking for. And voila - they're ready to go!
Tackling the "Tough-ies" in Tourism
Tourism generates a range of single-use plastic waste items, alternatives for which are not always easy to find. At Three Tree Hill, they've committed to this task for well over a decade, taking decisions along the way that now make them one of the "go to" businesses for Fair Trade Tourism innovation.
For example, plastic water bottles are a common culprit in the sector. Three Tree decided 10 years ago to scrap plastic water bottles from its rooms, dining tables and guest activities. Rooms and tables are now adorned with repurposed wine bottles - labelled "Better than Bottled" - that are filled with chilled borehole water (drawn from a 120m deep aquifer that has been tested for purity). For the vast range of guest activities on offer, e.g. mountain hiking, farm walks, game walks, battlefield tours, horse riding, etc, chilled water is packed along in insulated flasks. Homemade, branded canvas & leather slings enable ease of carrying.
Guest activities often also present a problem when it comes to food packaging. Three Tree banned the use of cling wrap completely two years ago and tracked the impact of this - eliminating it meant they prevented 14.5kms of this non-recyclable plastic from polluting the environment! So what do they use to package picnics and lunch packs? Bamboo boats, brown paper and twine, and brown paper bags do the job just fine. In other words - only biodegradable or re-usable options whenever possible.
Kitchens always present a troublesome operational area for tourism and hospitality businesses - it's not only waste management that has to be considered, but also ensuring good food hygiene and minimising food waste. We have yet to hear of a business that does it perfectly but there's a sentiment expressed by the infamous Zero Waste Chef, Anne-Marie Bonneau, which we share. It goes:
"We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly."
At Three Tree Hill food storage is made planet-friendly through the use of produce bags (also great for shopping) and beeswax wraps. Moving over to the beeswax wraps initially presented some challenges, especially when it came to changing behaviour - one likes to do things the way one knows - but they report that after a few months, the team settled in and everyone adapted. Their experience has been that the beeswax wraps are very easy to clean, and they just pop them into the oven each month to melt the wax a bit so it acquires that tight, sticky fit again. Custom-made wraps were ordered to suit their larger bowls and others were adapted for snack bowls, etc. They now have an extensive and strikingly beautiful collection!
And what about disposable slippers...? Well, Three Tree has simply drawn the line and said "no" (as they have done for shower caps and ear buds). Their alternative was to partner with women in the local community who provide them with hand-woven, 100% cotton, washable slippers. They come in a range of sizes - even small ones for kiddies in the family cottages - and are washed after each guest stay. Guests can even buy them in the lodge's shop, where they go like hotcakes alongside the colourful, recycled PET shopping bags (the same style that Three Tree takes along for shopping trips)!
Seolo Africa, with FTT-certified Rhino Post Safari Lodge and Plains Camp: Rhino Walking Safaris in Kruger National Park, has approached the single-use plastic challenge with a long-term vision. Plastic water bottles were replaced by a water dispenser that dispenses chilled and ambient temperature water, as well as the option for sparkling.
Initially, they started giving away stainless steel bottles to guests, but were worried about this becoming a different type of waste problem. They then opted for screw top glass bottles in a thermal sleeve, which are sterilised for re-use (just like any drinking glass). This was decided as the better long term solution and was introduced with great success.
Other single use plastics in the camps' F&B departments have also been eliminated, replaced by refillable glass jars. This includes coffee and sugar in rooms, yogurts and cereals at breakfast, sugar bowls on dining tables, and jugs for water, juice and milk. Packed meals even have jam packed in cute little glass jars, while plastic straws have been replaced with paper ones, knives and forks are made from bamboo, and other packaging was specifically sourced to be environmentally friendly.
This network of like-minded businesses always shows such incredible generosity of spirit in sharing what they have learned and we are proud to play a role in bringing this together to effect positive change within the broader industry. Please contact us if you would like to join the journey or learn more about the businesses leading the way.