Lifestyle | 10 Jul 2018 | By Sun International
How the Wild Coast Sun Achieved Zero Waste to Landfill
You wouldn’t know it, standing on the beach at the Wild Coast Sun, but there’s a huge, man-made island floating out in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Measuring hundreds of kilometres long, it sits in the middle of the ocean’s natural currents. There’s a similar island in the Pacific, as well as in the North and South Atlantic oceans. Each is surrounded by a thin, soup-like liquid, and together they’re slowly choking the life out of planet Earth. Those islands are made of plastic, and they’re the result of years worth of trash that’s either been dumped or made its way into the ocean through polluted rivers and beaches.
The problem isn’t necessarily plastic; it’s single-use plastic: the disposable bags, straws and spoons that we use once (usually to store or carry food) and then throw away. If we simply cleaned them out and reused them, we’d go a long way to fixing the problem. Some businesses, governments and organisations are joining the effort to clean up our approach to waste management. In 2016, France banned plastic plates, cups and cutlery, while in 2017, Kenya introduced a tough set of laws that made it illegal to make, sell or use plastic bags. In South Africa, the V&A Waterfront recently announced plans to eradicate all plastic bottles and bags over the upcoming three-year period.
Blazing the trail
Sun International is leading the effort in South Africa, with an exciting success story coming out of the Wild Coast Sun. It’s an incredible accomplishment: over the course of 2017, the Wild Coast Sun generated 679 tonnes of waste, and not a single kilogram of it was sent to the dump. Everything was reused or recycled.
This achievement won’t only have positive environmental sustainability impacts; it’s also an example of Sun International’s commitment to taking care of our planet, while supporting the communities in which we do business.
To appreciate just how huge a job it is, you first have to understand how things used to be. The Wild Coast Sun is a sizeable resort, sitting on about 750 hectares of seafront property. Naturally, it also generates a sizeable amount of waste. For more than three decades, it sent 40 tonnes of waste to a local landfill site every month. ‘We’ve always had some form of recycling, but it was only about 30% of our waste,’ says Sonja Stroud, Environmental Health & Safety Coordinator at the Wild Coast Sun. ‘Now that’s not bad... but it meant that 70% of our waste was going to landfill.’
When Sun International’s head office set the challenge of sending none of that waste to landfill, Stroud just shook her head. ‘We never thought we’d achieve that goal, but we knew we wanted to increase the volume of waste we were recycling, so we implemented a few small projects.’ Over about four years, with four important steps, they achieved this seemingly impossible goal.
Cleaning up the Kitchen
‘We started in our kitchens,’ says Stroud. ‘There, each section was given two bins: one for food waste and one for everything else. That’s where they placed recyclable paper, plastic, cans, packaging and so on. The biggest challenge was to separate the food from the other items. The minute you have food mixed with other waste, that waste is contaminated and you can’t recycle it.’ Imagine a plastic tub filled with butter – most people won’t bother cleaning it out and, because it’s not recyclable, it will go into the landfill.
Building the Compost Heap
Once the food waste (or wet waste) was separated, the Wild Coast Sun team used it to make compost. ‘You can’t achieve zero waste if you don’t create compost. We have a big property, so we took our food waste to our compost yard, which is just below the stables. We covered it with a layer of leaves to keep the flies, smells and rodents away,’ Stroud says.
The Wild Coast Sun then identified a team of environmental sustainability ambassadors or ‘Zero Waste Heroes’, who felt passionate about the initiative and who visited local communities looking for opportunities for engagement and upliftment. That led to the creation of Vuka Uzenzele Trading, an enterprise development project (EDP) responsible for making the compost. ‘Vuka Uzenzele supports five households,’ says Stroud, ‘and it’s saving the property at least R400 000 a year in compost costs.’
Before long, the Wild Coast Sun was producing about 420 tonnes of compost a year. ‘And we put it straight back into the earth: into our lawns, our golf course and our vegetable garden,’ says Stroud.
Moving to Recycling
‘Our landscaping contractor couldn’t cope with the volumes of waste we were generating,’ says Stroud. And so Gayo Enterprises (another EDP) was established to collect waste from across the hotel complex and prepare it for recycling. ‘Gayo are like little bees! They buzz around our offices collecting paper, cardboard, cartridges and batteries. They go into the kitchens, extract the food waste, and take it to the compost yard.' While all of this was happening, Recycle 4 Africa opened in Port Edward.
Banning the Bins
Another breakthrough came in December 2016. ‘We realised that our biggest enemies in terms of zero waste to landfill were compactors, skips and wheelie bins. Those things are an invitation to dump. So we pulled the compactors off our complex and banned the skips and wheelie bins. We now use a bag system, which the team at the recycling centre sort to prepare for recycling,’ explains Stroud. Removing the skips and wheelie bins was the final step in the Wild Coast Sun’s journey to zero waste to landfill – and it’s where everybody at the property bought into the vision.
An Unexpected Benefit
The success of the composting project meant that the Wild Coast Sun grew a thriving vegetable garden, which now supplies organic veggies to the property’s kitchen. Stroud says: ‘We save money on produce, while reducing our carbon footprint by not having a supplier deliver fresh vegetables all the way from Margate or Port Shepstone. What’s more, the vegetable garden often produces more than the kitchen needs. We send our surplus veggies to local soup kitchens, which provide food for about 900 school children.’