Plastic pollution is big news in Britain these days – almost as visible in news headlines as it is on our streets and public places. Last week it was revealed that more than 160,000 people and organisations wrote in after HM Treasury asked for views on how tax changes could contribute to the fight against public waste. It was the biggest response to any consultation this government department has run.

Plastic waste is an even bigger environmental challenge in many developing countries. But in a remote area of rural Tanzania, Singita Serengeti has succeeded in hitting its target of cutting abundant plastic bottle waste by more than 90% within a few years. Just imagine if that could be done in the UK!

Singita is a South African based company which has marked its commitment to sustainability by developing a One Planet Action Plan using our ten One Planet Living principles. It runs a dozen upmarket safari and conservation destinations in southern and eastern Africa – places where spending by tourists helps to conserve large tracts of important habitat and wildlife and support the local communities. In Tanzania, it manages 140,000 hectares of savannah next to the world-renowned Serengeti National Park.

Unsafe drinking water is the cause of many diseases and the visitor operation there had acquired a plastic habit due to its huge demand for bottled drinking water – more than 150,000 litres a year. Guests, many of them from the USA, wanted to be sure they were getting plenty of clean drinking water through long, hot days and evenings spent looking at amazing wildlife. Sealed plastic bottles which opened with a click gave them that security.

While the majority of the 800 staff were from the local area and quite used to the local water the small number of ex-pat staff also kept thirst at bay with plastic-bottled water. And to ensure affordable access to water Singita subsidised the price of the bottles for staff.

The company broke the habit by installing equipment that filtered and sterilised local groundwater on site using ultra-violet light. There’s even a small plant that converts it into sparkling, carbonated water for the dining tables.

Each guest is given a reusable steel water container (see header photo) – to replenish with drinking water throughout their stay, then continue to use back home while serving as a memento of an amazing holiday.

As for the staff, clean and filtered drinking water is now available in or next to all of their homes and places of work. They too can use the steel water containers, and the company subsidy for plastic water bottles has ended.

While a few guests still insist on having sealed plastic bottles of water most of them get the message and are happy to switch to the long-life containers.

This 90% plus reduction is the biggest success story in Singita Serengeti’s drive to reduce waste of all kinds – which isn’t easy in a very rural, developing-world location with very little in the way of recycling infrastructure.

Even so, waste paper is shredded and composted along with food waste. The much-reduced quantities of plastic waste are used to make mosquito nets in a country still gripped by malaria. And all metal waste is collected for recycling.

The drive to reduce plastic waste is spreading through the rest of Singita’s operations. Its logistics centre in South Africa no longer uses any plastic in its deliveries of supplies. The sticky wrapping tape is based on paper rather than plastic, and cardboard boxes and reusable crates used for deliveries are brought back to the centre for recycling. In guest accommodation, the toothbrushes supplied to forgetful guests are made from bamboo, while cotton buds have wooden, rather than plastic sticks.

Significant investment, commitment and an attention to detail have been necessary to drive this plastic waste reduction, but if it can be achieved in a location with zero formal recycling facilities surely it can be replicated across Britain and the developed world?

Singita has recently announced that it aims to have eliminated all single-use plastic by 2023.

Singita Serengeti One Planet Annual Review 2017

Resources

1.3 Mb | 20 June 2018

Singita Serengeti continues to play a vital role in preserving a globally iconic ecosystem and supporting its neighbouring communities. It is now undertaking this work while reducing the resource use consumption and impact on the global environment

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