Recycling Tourist Waste
by Jules Kay
The fast pace of development and lack of regulation in tropical holiday destinations like Koh Samui have caused damage to the natural environment. Prevention is better than cure, but when issues like waste disposal and water pollution reach critical levels it falls on the community to act. The local government is currently focussing on major infrastructure improvements such as road repairs, while the private sector and community organisations are now also making their own contribution to the island's well being.
Recycling is widely accepted as one of the best ways to reduce environmental damage and although it is not a new concept in Thailand, effective approaches have thus far been lacking on many tourist islands. The Thai Hotels Association is a powerful force in the tourist-led economy on Samui and its members have been actively looking at ways to reduce waste. With over a million tourists visiting the island annually, there's an urgent need to manage the amount of rubbish and waste created.
Although most visitors are unaware of the issue, the island's hotels, resorts and private villas have introduced a range of recycling and wastewater treatment policies to reduce the amount of organic and manufactured waste they produce each day. Rubbish separation for recycling is now standard practice in most resorts. Recycling companies collect and pay for used plastic, cardboard, glass, foil and other products, which they sell on to recycling plants on the mainland. Many resorts also have dedicated storage spaces for different forms of rubbish, while organic food waste is also re-used thanks to the introduction of Effective Micro-organisms, or EM, as it it is commonly known.
EM is an organic solution or powder that is mixed with water and molasses then left to ferment in a tank before being used as fertilizer, insecticide or even as a commercial cleaning agent. Fruit and vegetable peelings from hotel kitchens are kept and added to the solution as a key ingredient in the process. The resulting liquid is safe and versatile and can remove bad smells and bacteria from septic tanks, clean up dirty water, boost plant growth in gardens and can even be drunk as a health tonic.
By applying these techniques, popular resorts on Koh Samui like the Kandaburi, Tongsai bay, Six Senses and Rocky's have greatly reduced the amount of waste they need to dispose of. Samui Villas and Homes Ltd, the island's largest property management and rental agency has also introduced these green policies in their villas and offices. In a single month, their combined efforts now mean several tons of waste is recycled, and with programmes already initiated to do the same in schools and public buildings, the island is beginning to set standards that will have a positive bearing on future sustainable development.