Traveling in the Spirit of Ubuntu, Part 3: The Three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In the third piece of a multi-part series on responsible tourism, scientist and travel expert Louise de Waal advises us on how to avoid wastefulness and conserve natural resources through simple actions.

Overconsumption and waste are global issues that we can all take more responsibility for.  At home, many of us are consciously reducing our waste and recycle whatever and whenever we can. However, what happens when we are on holiday? Are we still as mindful?

Many developing destinations often have inadequate waste disposal systems and lack recycling initiatives, and for us travellers there is no way to avoid generating some waste. We therefore need to be even more careful of where and how to dispose of this waste while on holiday. However, there are lots of small simple actions we can all take to reduce waste, reuse and/or recycle and help to keep the host’s environment clean.

One of my biggest bugbears is bottled water. Did you know it takes 162 g of oil and 7 litres of water to produce a 1 litre water bottle? If not recycled, a plastic water bottle can take more than 400 years to decompose. Just in the US, approximately 50 billion bottles of water are bought each year, of which 80% ends up in landfills.

Many people drink bottled water on holiday, because they question the safety of the local tap water, and often for very good reason. Always ask your hotel or guesthouse first what the quality of the water is like. For example, the quality of South Africa’s tap water is of western standards, but the quality in Egypt is highly questionable.

Instead of drinking bottled water, why not bring a reusable water bottle on holiday? If you are worried about the local drinking water quality, invest in one of the many purification methods, e.g. bottles with built in water filters like LifeStraw®, purification tablets, or buy water in larger five litre bottles to reduce waste.

My second pet hate — yes I know I have a few — is the plastic carrier bag. Did you know that worldwide we go through an astounding 10 billion plastic bags every week and only 1% is recycled! Plastic is unfortunately the biggest source of ocean litter, and kills around 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million sea birds each year.

The solution is so simple: bring your daypack or a reusable canvas shopping bag wherever you go, and refuse plastic carrier bags. When you do find yourself in possession of plastic bags, reuse them, dispose of them carefully, and recycle where possible.

Always help to save our limited natural resources. Try not to waste precious water. Take a shower instead of a bath, which reduces the amount of water used by about half. Re-use your towels and save water and energy. Switch off all unnecessary lights, televisions, fans, and air-conditioning in your room.

Try the local wines, beers, and spirits instead of drinking international brands. You will not only support the local economy, but also reduce the carbon footprint of your favourite tipple. It is so much fun to try the local drinks and most African countries have their own brands of beer, like Tusker in Kenya, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Windhoek & Tafel in Namibia, and Kuche Kuche in Malawi. Try the more unusual South African Amarula or the rather potent Malawi gin or Tanzanian Konyagi. South Africa is blessed with some of the finest wines and the number of craft breweries is on the increase, producing some great beers, like Jack Black, Darling Brew, Porcupine Quill Brewing, Smack Republic Brewing Co, and CBC (Cape Brewing Company).

When ordering seafood in a restaurant, make sure it has come from a sustainable source. To help you make the ocean-friendly seafood choice, check the WWF SASSI pocket guide (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) or download the SASSI app for your mobile device. It’s a simple system with three colours: green is “tuck in with a clear conscience,” orange is “think twice,” and red is “avoid altogether.”

When you have finished reading your books and magazines, consider swapping or leaving them behind for other travellers. Even better, find a local school or library to donate them to.

Instead of using disposable batteries, buy rechargeables and a solar-powered battery charger. There are also some great and affordable solar gadgets on the market to recharge mobile phones, cameras, and other electronic devices. If you have ordinary batteries that die, hold onto them until you find a proper way of of disposing — or even better, recycling — them. This could mean taking the empties back home.

Consider offsetting your carbon footprint. There are many reliable carbon-offsetting schemes, all with a slightly different focus and approach, so shop around and pick the one that appeals most to you. For example, the UK-based Climate Care has an integrated climate and development approach, Food & Trees for Africa are involved in food gardens and urban greening, and Trees for Tourism is a biodiversity reforestation project in South Africa.

Many lodges and guesthouse are built and run in extremely environmentally friendly ways; before booking your trip do a little research on the greener places. To help you making the right choice, check out the current eco-labels that certify accommodation providers, such as Fair Trade in Tourism, Ecotourism Kenya, Eco Awards Namibia Alliance, Responsible Tourism Tanzania, Botswana Ecotourism Certification, and Heritage.

Africa is well known for offering unique and environmentally friendly accommodation options. Some of my favourite innovative sustainable designs and building techniques include:

  • The straw bale chalets at Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch (Namibia).
  • The solar-powered Fynbos suites at Farm 215 (South Africa).
  • The treehouses with minimal footprint and environmentally friendly bathrooms at Chole Mjini (Tanzania).
  • Baines Camp (Botswana) built with over 150,000 recycled aluminium cans collected by the local community in Maun.
  • Nkwichi Lodge (Mozambique) built from local material to fully blend into the natural environment.
  • The more conventional Hotel Verde in Cape Town (South Africa) with multiple sustainable designs to reduce energy, water and waste, and a green roof used to grow vegetables & herbs.

Louise de Waal is the founder and former MD of Baobab Travel, which was one of the first tour operators to become Fair Trade in Tourism Approved by South Africa’s Fair Trade Tourism organization. She currently blogs for Green Girls in Africa, and the Good Holiday community.  She holds a PhD in environmental management.

Read the rest of Louise’s series here:

Part 1: What is Ubuntu?

Part 2: Traversing the Continent With Cultural Sensitivity

Part 4: Take Only Memories, Leave Nothing But Footprints

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