It is easy to feel that companies in the travel and tourism sector have inflated claims about their ‘green’ credentials in order to capitalise and profit. We’re a small, specialist tour operator without stakeholders or investors and we’re limited by our resources – both time and economic. However, we try really hard to make good decisions and although we cannot hope to change the world, do not get everything right or know all the answers, as a tour company, we have the chance to educate and influence the behaviour of our team and to inspire our guests and one way we are doing this is through managing the number of plastic bottles we use in Mongolia by working with Water To Go.
In Mongolia, due to its challenging infrastructure, a majority of families do not have access to drinking water from a tap. Instead, there is a countrywide network of water supply stations where families come to collect their water. Here at EL we have never bulked purchased disposable plastic water bottles for our guests on our Mongolia tours. Instead, we have always provided two 20 litre water containers in each of our tour vehicles which we then refill taking fresh drinking water from these water supply stations. For added security, we provide a Steripen Adventurer or Lifesaver water filter for those who wish to neutralise their water.
We now also have a working partnership with Water-To-Go from whom our guests can purchase a 75cl filtered water bottle. The filter (200 litres) is the equivalent of 400 single-use plastic bottles. Water-To-Go is a 3-in-1 filtration system that eliminates well in excess of 99.9% of microbiological contaminants including viruses and bacteria from any non-salt water source. Furthermore, the filter eliminates harmful contaminants from the water but allows the beneficial minerals such as sodium and magnesium to pass through leaving the healthiest water possible. Water-to-Go filters have also been independently tested against international recognised standards by industry specialists including The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (UK) and BCS Laboratories (USA).
As an EL guest and Water-To-Go purchaser, our guests receive an exclusive 15% discount. From each purchase using the discount code, an additional 15% is donated to buy Plan Vivo Foundation carbon certificates which are used to support the Plan Vivo Mongolian Nomad Project – working in partnership with the Mongolian Society of Range Management – https://www.planvivo.org/pastures-conservation-climate-action
What We Need To Work On
In the EL office, we use 1-2 20L water dispensers a week. These are recyclable dispensers purchased from a local family-run shop next to the office and the dispenser is returned and reused. But, we do purchase cold drinks for our guests when on the road (oh the joy of finding a Coke in a working fridge in a small town in the Gobi Desert in the middle of summer), our guests and team purchase drinks for themselves when on tour and we do purchase drinks for the office which we keep in the fridge for our team for when they return to the office. These drinks are a mix of cans and plastic bottles.
Also, although the need to bring a reusable water bottle and our partnership working with Water To Go is highlighted throughout our Pre Departure Guidelines and Packing List, not all of our guests manage this and do purchase bottles of water.
A major issue in Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia’s capital city – remains that sorting or recycling are undertaken by very few companies and there are very few regular collections. Outside of Ulaanbaatar, sorting or recycling of waste is non-existent. However, in Ulaanbaatar there is an emergence of limited options within the private sector and in 2021 we will be establishing a recycling system within our UB office with separate bins for paper, plastic, and cans which we can then transfer to recycling bins which have been placed close to our office collection. For bottles and cans bought when on tour, we will try and set up a system whereby they are crushed, placed in a sack and brought back to the recycling bins close to the EL office.
According to statistic.com, in 2019:
‘The production of plastics totalled around 368 million metric tons worldwide. The incredible versatility of this group of materials accounts for the continued growth in production year after year. In tandem with that growth, the market value of plastics also continues to grow.’
We’re a small company but with small steps, we are working on making our own small corner of the travel industry a better place and managing our usage of plastic bottles and working with Water To Go form part of those small steps. Transparency is as important as action and we will publish each year our progress. For now, we invite you to be part of this bigger travel philosophy and purchase a Water To Go bottle.
For more on our Responsible Tourism philosophy – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/responsible-tourism-mongolia/