Can food make Responsible Travel irresponsible?
We’re ten days away from our annual international unconference “Responsible Travel Week 2013” (11-17 February) so let’s talk about the elephant shit in the room:
The UNWTO has just recently released its latest arrivals statistics, and they’re mighty impressive: 1.035 billion travellers in 2012, of which 535 million arrived in Europe (up 3% on 2011); 233 million (+7%) in the Asia-Pacific region; 162 million (+4%) in the Americas; 53 million (+5%) in the Middle East, and 52 million (+6%) in Africa. All of which is very good for the economy, and thus for our pockets.
But can you imagine how much waste 1.035 billion tourists produced?
Let’s look at it this the context of our own country – population about 50 million (which is close enough to the 52 million mentioned above).
I’ve found the definition of a shitload: South Africa’s production of food waste.
Bit of digging on the net unearthed a paper called ‘Estimating the magnitude of food waste generated in South Africa’ by Suzan HH Oelofse and Anton Nahman (download it here).
Here’s the introduction:
“Throughout the developed world, food is treated as a disposable commodity. Between a third and half of all food produced for human consumption globally is estimated to be wasted. However, attempts to quantify the actual magnitude of food wasted globally are constrained by limited data, particularly from developing countries. This article attempts to quantify total food waste generation (including both pre-consumer food losses, as well as post-consumer food waste) in South Africa. The estimates are based on available food supply data for South Africa and on estimates of average food waste generation at each step of the food supply chain for sub-Saharan Africa. The preliminary estimate of the magnitude of food waste generation in South Africa is in the order of 9.04 million tonnes per annum. On a per capita basis, overall food waste in South Africa in 2007 is estimated at 177 kg/capita/annum and consumption waste at 7 kg/capita/annum. However, these preliminary figures should be used with caution and are subject to verification through ongoing research.”
90.4 million tonnes.
That’s the elephant shit in the room.
Thing is, though, that most – all!- of our food waste could be put to good use, most of it could be turned from an environmental nightmare into en environmental wet dream, and most of it could – if we just gave it some thought – become a job creator, a fertiliser industry, an all-round good guy…
If it was just properly managed.
The tourism industry should be taking the lead in the management of its food waste because we’re all hot and happening when it comes to showing off how well we cook and prepare our food.
But then we just chuck the left-overs away, just send it off to landfill sites where all it does is poison everything.
You might have noticed: poisoned places aren’t great tourism destinations.
I like the definition of Responsible Travel: ‘creating better places to live in, and better places to visit.’ (Note: the word ‘people’ isn’t there. This is because Responsible Travel is concerned with all living creatures – with the whole environment – and not just with people.)
I’d argue that the disposal of our waste is a vital metric when it comes to deciding whether we’re practicing Responsible Travel or not.
It’s a humungous problem but – at least as far as food waste is concerned – there’s a remarkably simple, 100% effective answer.
I’ve only recently been introduced to bokashi – it’s a low-tech solution that was developed in Japan, and which uses a mix of Effective Microorganisms (EM-1) like lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, photosynthetic bacteria and actinobacteria to ferment (‘pickle’) any food waste at all.
Basically, you throw your unused food – plate-scrapings, meat, oils, dairy, fish, vegetables – into a bucket, cover it with a sprinkling of bokashi bran (a mixture of wheat bran, molasses, and EM-1), seal the bucket, and leave the gunk to pickle for a couple-a weeks.
And the final product? A highly effective, pollution-free, poison-free liquid fertiliser – and a pile of solids that no longer smell, and which you can throw onto the compost heap, or use in your worm farm, or simply turn into the soil.
The system prevents your waste from producing methane (which is significant, since methane is *the* greenhouse gas, and South Africa ranks 15th amongst the top producers of greenhouse gasses in the world) – and it’s smell-free, too.
Plus: you won’t be plagued by flies anymore, either. (Watch this video, and then continue reading below).
… Oh. And it’s cheap.
Sounds like a no-brainer, but is the tourism industry embracing it?
I asked Vernon Grimmbacher, who handles sales and marketing for Probio (www.bokashi.co.za) – a Cape Town-based supplier – and (I was a bit surprised at this) he came back with a mixed answer:
“The majority of the wine estates in the Stellenbosch area which have their own restaurants have gone over to bokashi: Le Quartier Français, Delheim, L’Ormarins, Jordan Wine Estate…
“Delaire Graff have about five massive wine farms, and they’re all using bokashi buckets.
“Generally we find that the privately-owned, upmarket restaurants that’re run by their owners or by professional chefs are more likely to use the system than anyone else.
“The people who run the fish and chips-type business just aren’t interested.
I find this disappointing – especially since food waste is as much a part of eating as preparation; since its disposal has always been a headache for us all; since the set-up and running costs are really low (and the operation of the thing is dead easy); since only a minority of travellers are likely to eat at the Delheims of this world, and most of us are most likely to grab a bite at the fish-and-chips shops; and since bokashi buckets seem to actually improve hygiene in the kitchen.
“Basically all you need is the bokashi bran and a few of those blue, 200 litre barrels which cost about two hundred bucks a pop second-hand from Plastics for Africa,” said Vernon.
That’s your capital investment: the running costs aren’t out of control, either:
“The bran costs about R 1,300 a month for larger restaurants, while smaller shops usually spend about R 675 a month (VAT excluded) – although this often doubles in season,” said Vernon.
But don’t you need a lot of ‘em stranding around?
“Once the system gets going you empty the barrels every second week, so busy restaurants can usually get away with four or six of them,– but really, if four or six isn’t enough, it’s cheap enough to buy some more…”
It sounds fine in practice, but what do you do with the sour-kraut-like stuff that comes out of them?
“The food waste is fermented and broken down by the bokashi, and its chemical structure changes. It doesn’t smell any more, and all the harmful pathogens have been destroyed, and only the good stuff is left behind – so the wine estates work it into the land.
“But you can use it for making compost, so some of the restaurants donate it to food gardens, where they use it instead of chemical fertilisers,” said Vernon.
He also told me that Probio works with YWaste – a Cape Town-based BEE company that collects from hotels like the Mount Nelson, the Vineyard, and the Twelve Apostles every day. (YWaste is run by mother-and-son team Avril and Emile Fourie – they’re on Facebook and their web site’s at www.y-waste.net)
“They turn the bokashi waste into compost at their site in Philippi, and then they sell it back to the hotels – and to other customers too.
“We’ve also developed an automated machine that dewaters and dries the bokashi waste, and turns it into pellets which can then easily be bagged.
“This material can be used as fertiliser, or you can use it in bio-digesters – which is an efficient way of dealing with food waste because this way its energy is stored until it’s needed.
Shew. A lot do digest, so to speak. But if you think about it, tourism can make an enormous contribution here just by following a quite simple strategy:
1. We have to embrace Responsible Travel (read Ron Mader’s Responsible Travel Week 2013 Q&A here) – and that means embracing this idea: ‘Where our food goes TO is just as important as where it comes FROM’;
2. We have to set up bokashi bucket systems in all our hotels, lodges, restaurants, B&Bs, and hostels. All of ‘em.
3. In urban areas, we have to set up more businesses like YWaste that collect and distribute our bokashi compost. One outlet? Urban farmers. There are a lot more of them than you might think: just read up on Abalimi Bezekhaya (the Planters of the Home) which is based in Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, and which, amongst other things, teaches up to a thousand people a year how to grow their own food. (This is one of the projects which receives support from the good James Fernie of Uthando South Africa. And James, as you know, uses the power of tourism to do a power of good in the Cape. I’ve written about him before: last year, Uthando won a Sustainable Development in Tourism Award at the 73rd Skål International World Congress in South Korea.)
4. In the platteland, we have no excuse: every lodge, every game farm, every self-catering establishment, every camping and caravan park, has to set up a bokashi bucket system, and has to use the stuff it produces on our own food gardens.
And – just as important as all of the above:
5. We have to start telling travellers that we’re doing this, and we have to get their buy-in. Because Responsible Travel is as much the travellers responsibility as it is the hosts.
And if we do all of that? Well, we’ll have got rid of the elephant shit in the room. And, I suspect, our food’ll taste a whole hell of a lot better, too…
Go here for a quick overview of the bokashi process