FHTA, 23 March 2023 – The trash in and around our beautiful countryside is caused by our inability to “do the right thing” at a national level.
Despite the intermittent and ineffective, ad hoc litter awareness campaigns, workshops, and seminars, we do not appear to be caring for our environment enough to be making the kind of difference we can really be proud of.
Think about when you last saw rubbish by the roadside, beach or public park. That probably wasn’t very long ago.
As Fiji continues to grapple with the issue of sustainability, the importance of recycling has become an increasing part of achieving this, but just as clearly, our efforts need to be part of an ongoing series of collective actions to determine exactly how we Keep Fiji Beautiful.
Despite the efforts of individuals and organizations to promote recycling, there is a critical aspect of this issue that is often overlooked: the readiness for recycling when there is a far more urgent issue at stake for many of our citizens – waste collection.
This has been a topic of keen reflection in the last week; brought to the fore once again by noble efforts to push through some often stubborn blockades, and certainly a timely reminder that with a lot more support, we can start reconsidering our readiness for recycling more seriously.
This week, we will explore how the industry has embraced recycling and touch on the readiness for recycling and the steps we might take to ensure that we are adequately prepared to recycle at a national level.
Because if it is not undertaken at a national level, then we are not making a large enough dent in the snowballing impact of what the increasing mountains of waste that includes plastics, will do to our beautiful islands.
As the issue of waste disposal, plastic use and recycling reaches critical levels, it is becoming more and more obvious that individually, we all need to make a stand now.
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) recently participated in roundtable discussions on the Global Recycling Day – Plastic Free Pacific initiative, organized by the Pacific Recycling Foundation (PRF) in partnership with Tourism Fiji, which reignited conversations around the issue of plastic pollution in the region.
With the theme “Plastic Free Pacific – A Plea” chosen as an urgent cry for a future without plastic pollution in Fiji and other Pacific Island nations; two major national campaigns were launched, with a Plastic Free Day confirmed for next year to provide a national platform to discuss, educate and share best practices.
While the tourism industry has long been at the forefront of efforts to address waste management and promote recycling, there is a need to engage other industries and communities in these efforts and share some of the lessons learnt in what has often been a difficult and industry-specific journey that often called for innovative solutions because support for these was not available.
While many tour operators have implemented waste management and recycling programs as operational necessities in resorts, on the vessels as well as during their cruise itineraries, and as part of tours and nature-based experiences; we recognize that there is still a need to educate and motivate tourism staff to carry the importance of these initiatives with them to positively impact their communities.
The issue of plastic pollution in the Pacific has gained increasing attention in recent years, with organizations and initiatives such as Plastic Free Pacific and the Pacific Pledge seeking to tackle this environmental challenge.
While still criticized for not doing enough as an industry, individual operators take recycling to extreme levels to promote their pristine environments, reduce costs, save precious water levels, especially in rural and maritime areas and are constantly on the lookout for a better way to address recycling.
Here is an example of the recycling lengths just one resort in the Mamanuca Islands goes to. Kitchen waste like vegetable peelings and food scraps are donated to community piggeries at no cost, with the balance going into composts. Wastewater is treated in a membrane bioreactor treatment plant, which is then safe to use for watering extensive grounds, thereby reducing the load on their freshwater needs.
All glass bottles are collected and separated with the local brewery bottles returned to the mainland, and all remaining glass bottles are ground to be re-used as a base product for the island roads, concrete and other projects that can replace sand.
All green or garden waste is chipped and composted to rehabilitate the soil around the resort that compliments their lush gardens and supports their reforestation program, while building waste and used materials are sorted and stored for reuse for suitable projects. These include creative repurposing – for example decking timber that is no longer useful for decking is repurposed into furniture like outdoor picnic tables, and disused louvre blades can be made into secondary products like serving boards.
Plastic bottles are separated and those that are accepted as part of a recycling scheme are returned for over 10 years, the resort has limited all purchasing of single-use plastic where compostable and biodegradable alternatives were available (straws, bulk food wrap, takeaway containers, stirring sticks, take away cutlery like bamboo), replacing plastic bags with paper and re-usable materials.
They have continued to work with their suppliers of goods to limit the plastic packaging, particularly local clothing items for sale in their island boutique or for staff uniforms – particularly where all items would usually be transported and delivered in individual plastic sleeves. This amounts to thousands of plastic sleeves per year that can be saved on.
By purchasing a portable timber slabber after Cyclone Evan, they can now produce their own timber from the fallen hardwood trees on the island. This timber has then been used for benchtops and counters throughout the resort, reducing the need to dispose of valuable timber resources and replacing products that may be less environmentally friendly like marble and granite.
Scrap metal from their workshops is disposed of through scrap metal merchants, with a small amount retained for creative welding projects that can be displayed artistically around the resort.
They have also reduced single water bottle usage by providing bulk refillable water dispensers in their offices, and as electric vehicles (golf buggies) are the main mode of transport around the resort, all vehicle batteries are recycled by the local battery companies.
Used oil products are returned to the fuel suppliers, who on-supply them to the road seal product manufacturers and as in guest rooms around the country, many resorts have changed to dispensing units for bathroom products thereby reducing wastage, as well as the packaging needs for cardboard, plastic and paper usage.
The industry can play a critical role in promoting sustainable practices, with businesses taking their guests with them on their journeys through responsible tourism practices. Post-pandemic, there has been a notable increase in the response to and the demand for tourism businesses clearly identifying their efforts and programs that support these.
Recycling, reusing, reducing and refusing (you can refuse the daily change of your room linen) has become part of many brand advocacies and is used in marketing to reinforce their commitment to protecting the earth and fighting against climate change.
As visitors actively seek out destinations that align with these values, many in the industry have stepped up to offer not only eco-friendly accommodations but also opportunities for visitors to participate in environmental protection or proactive activities.
Regular beach clean-ups, mangrove replanting, and reef restoration are just a few examples of initiatives that have been implemented and that receive support from visitors, staff, and nearby communities.
However, despite the tourism industry’s success in promoting recycling and sustainable practices, there remains a significant challenge in replicating these efforts in our local residential areas and communities.
While tourists may be conscious of their environmental impact having been exposed to these norms in their own countries, for many Fijians, waste management remains a daily struggle. In mainly urban areas, waste collection is usually a part of formal waste management efforts, but in many peri-urban, rural and maritime areas, this is not the case at all.
While the benefits of recycling are clear, it is important to recognize that recycling is just one aspect of a larger holistic waste management program.
Next week, we will discuss why we must address the larger issue of waste collection at a national level, to appreciate why it comes before we try to change mindsets on recycling and get everyone behind the need to KEEP FIJI CLEAN.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 23 March 2023)