Our (Mini) Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge
We’re a small company – created by taking small but achievable steps. That same focus on small but achievable steps is the driving force behind our #miniplasticfreemongoliachallenge – part of our wider Sustainable Tourism Strategy.
Learn about the reasons why we set up our Mini Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge further down the page. But we are inviting our guests to join us. Even if we can’t fully eradicate all use of single-use plastic we believe with small steps we can make a difference and that’s why we’ve created our Mini Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge – focusing on five simple steps plus a #2minutelitterpick. Each step focuses on one plastic product and includes what EL is doing to help our guests minimise their plastic footprint as well as how our guests can help us. Members of our EL team will also be taking part.
The Background Story
Since 2014 we have been arranging our annual two-day rubbish clean-up of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park in Arkhangai Aimag working together with members of the local community including rangers of the national park.
In 2019 we noticed an increase in discarded wet wipes, sanitary items and hygiene products. Mongolia’s wilderness areas (and therefore our wilderness experiences) are being spoilt by encountering soiled hygiene products left behind by others. Putting them under a rock, or shoving them down a tree root hole does not count as disposing of them responsibly. From our 2019 clean-up, we were motivated to create our ‘Be A Changemaker’ Sustainable Tourism Strategy.’ We continue to believe that tourism can be a powerful force for good. But, that needs those of us in the travel and tourism industry to take responsibility to ensure that we focus on our environmental impact as well as providing sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Now is the time for change and that’s why we created our Sustainable Tourism Strategy.
However, in 2020 and 2021 we didn’t let a pandemic stop us and we still arranged our annual clean-up although we used a smaller rubbish truck as tourism to Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park (both domestic and international) had been limited due to Covid. However, there were still plenty (way too many) plastic bottles.
It is well documented that tourism is a major contributor to the hundreds of millions of tons of plastic discarded every year, most of which cannot be recycled. It’s like a toxic tide and we need to continue the focus on using less single-use plastic and moving toward environmentally sustainable products.
Micro Plastics In Khovsgol Nuur
Although Mongolia is land-locked, the increase in single-use plastic used in tourism in the country has resulted in fragments and films of consumer plastics (including plastic bottles, fishing gear and plastic bags) being found in Lake Khovsgol – Mongolia’s largest freshwater lake (representing 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water and 1% of the planet’s freshwater) and the core of Khovsgol Nuur National Park.
[Free, C.M., et al. High-levels of microplastic pollution in a large, remote, mountain lake. Mar. Pollut. Bull. (2014), http:// dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.06.001]
Mongolia’s Rare Saiga Antelope
Plastic waste is a threat to Mongolia’s wildlife including the saiga antelope – a rare species of the Gobi Desert. In 2018 a ranger from Mongolia’s Gobi-Altai province reported that he had found a carcass of a saiga that had eaten a plastic bag. Although the sales of plastic bags were banned in 2019, plastic bags continue to be discarded and, partly due to the scarcity of food due to the impact of climate change, Mongolian saigas are eating plastic waste.
Our Future Focus
As a tourism company, we are looking at the bigger picture as continuing use of disposable items puts additional pressure on the local collection and recycling within Mongolia. Our focus includes how we can remove or minimise our use of the following:
- Plastic bags
- Plastic film packaging
- Multi-pack rings for canned drinks
- Vegetable / fruit net bags
- PVC cling film
- Bottle tops/caps
- Single-use drinks bottles
- Fruit and veg punnets/trays
- Internal plastic trays e.g. trays used in packets of cookies or biscuits
- Disposable cutlery, plastic plates and bowls, plastic cups, lids and stirrers * we don’t use these on tour but do sometimes purchase in Ulaanbaatar
- Condiment or food sachets
- Tear off tamper-evident strips on containers
- Polystyrene packaging such as for takeaway food ordered from local restaurants
- Plastic straws * we don’t use these on tour but sometimes a drink in a local bar comes with a plastic straw
Where single-use plastic items or packaging cannot be avoided, we’ll give preference to recyclable/ compostable plastic and/or plastic packaging/items with recycled content. We’ll also look at reducing, sorting, and separating (plastic) waste.
If you would like more details on our #miniplasticfreemongoliachallenge then get in touch with Jess.