A Plastic Free Plas Coch?
It certainly felt like serendipity – that morning when Alec Young appeared at the front door in his Eryri National Park Authority jacket, providing a welcome excuse to delay the washing up. Having been dragged in, put to sit in Plas Coch’s Map Room to admire our latest Jeremy Ashcroft mountain prints and having had a ‘panad’ and Welsh cake plonked in front of him, Alec explained he was calling to talk to us about the Plastic-Free Yr Wyddfa project. Serendipity, because the day before Fiona (Mrs Plas Coch) and I had made the bold decision that we could cut our refuse bills still further and reduce our environmental impact if we remove the last couple of plastic-wrapped goods from our guest provisions, increase our home composting and agree to don (reusable) rubber gloves and manually check every bin on its way to the wheely bin with our bold new motto ‘We can, we will and we do reuse, recycle and compost just about everything!’.
We’re on a mission!
In fact, four years previously (when we were informing a visibly shaken bank official that we had just resigned from our perfectly respectable, well-paid jobs as headteachers to run a small hotel in a Welsh-speaking village at the foot of what-we-then-called Snowdon) our fledgling business mission statement had declared that we would contribute to the local community and nature conservation in Eryri – though we had little idea how we would actually do that! Joining Cymdeithas Eryri (as a Business Member) and Pentref Taclus Llanberis (as a volunteer) were the first steps on that particular journey and the resulting days spent in ditches in variously coloured high-viz jackets – depending on whether in the mountains or our home village – alerted us to the scourge of the disposable plastic bottle – on roadsides, on mountain paths, in ditches, in lakes and over-flowing from bins and recycling trucks.
A Plastic-reduction vision
We were keen to talk with Alec about what changes we had made at Plas Coch to try and do our bit. Another aspect of our Mission Statement was that we wanted to educate and inform our guests about how to enjoy Eryri safely, responsibly and sustainably. We wanted to reduce both our use of plastic in the business and the amount of disposable plastic a typical Plas Coch guest would take out with them into the mountains. Aside from rock-climbers and Mountain Leader candidates, nearly all our guests want to climb, walk or run to Yr Wyddfa’s summit so we had invested in rather nice reusable water bottles to loan out, local beeswax sandwich wraps and paper bags for home-baked cakes and flapjacks. Along with compostable food waste bags, these were our ‘in’ into chats with guests about the impact of plastic, the fact that the only people picking up other people’s litter are unpaid volunteers and just how revolting it is to walk back down with a ruck-sack half full of black but very much non-decomposed banana skins collected from the PyG track on your day off!
In our rooms we had already replaced plastic-wrapped biscuits, sachets, capsules and miniature bottles with more sustainable options. Our decision to do away with UHT milk capsules with a fridge of fresh milk and porcelain jugs had been met with 100% approval from guests. Research has shown that visitors to Wales want to consume local produce and we had found that guests were keen to reduce their own consumption of single-use plastics whilst on holiday and would try, on the whole, to assist us in recycling – though their understanding of what could be recycled varied widely.
|Plastic-intensive produce||More sustainable replacement|
|Small disposable plastic bottle handwash||Locally made soap from Beddgelert|
|Small plastic shampoo and shower gel bottles||Refillable, reusable ethically-sourced products bought in 5L quantities|
|Plastic-wrapped biscuits||Home-made cakes, recycled napkins or china plates|
|Locally bought sandwich ‘meal deal’ packed lunch||Home made sandwiches, cakes, fresh fruit in paper wraps with steel Plas Coch drinks bottle (on loan)|
|Pre-packed sausages and bacon in plastic trays||Paper-wrapped fresh produce from local butcher shop|
|UHT milk capsules||Porcelain jugs to take dairy, oat or soya milk up to a room|
|Plastic-wrapped teabags||Glass jar of fully biodegradable locally sourced teabags, herbal and fruit infusions|
|Miniature versions of cereals, jams and marmalade||Glass jars with home-made granola, home made jams and home-made marmalade|
It is clear that our guests travelling in from around the UK and around the world have many different experiences of local authority recycling arrangements and this informs their understanding of what can and what cannot be recycled. You can’t have ‘rules’ about this in a modern guest house, but you can make it easier to do the right thing. By providing small recycling bins in each room and rather natty metal recycling bins for food, fruit peel, soft plastics and mixed recycling, we are encouraging our guests to try and bring all their waste back with them from the mountain. Even then, there is something quite rewarding about going through a fairly full waste bin and reducing the ‘landfill’ to just a couple of items. We are now saving £1,000 per year on commercial refuse collection.
For a while we had been working with suppliers who were happy to provide produce in reusable containers and also to take them back and use them again! Any surplus mushroom trays are put to use in the greenhouse growing seedlings that will eventually become cut flowers for the breakfast room (in home-made compost of course). We make a point of telling suppliers that we are using them because their packaging is reusable, compostable or at least recyclable.
Behind the scenes
Experience has helped us manage our food supplies more effectively to massively reduce any food waste. By setting up a home-composting area we can safely dispose of coffee grounds, biodegradable teabags, fruit peel, stalks, paper handwash towels, egg boxes, egg shells and uncooked vegetable matter. The added bonus is that this results in compost for our organic guests’ garden which our resident blackbirds and thrushes love to dig about in! Rather incredibly, for a setting providing as many as 70 cooked and continental breakfasts a week we are able to use just a domestic food waste kerb-side collection bin even after diverting all food away from landfill.
The familiar more environmentally friendly cleaning products make more economic sense anyway if bought in 5L quantities. Those big bottles are also handy for watering the garden so we can at least always reuse several times before recycling.
Next Steps – a Plastic-Free Llanberis?
We were pleased to undertake the Plastic Free Yr Wyddfa Business Award Audit with Alec and were chuffed to be the first business to gain the ‘Copa’ grading and to then talk at the Park Authority Conference back in April.
Another thread to our mission statement is supporting local businesses, so we actively encourage guests to use local cafes, restaurants, takeaways and shops. There are many brilliant examples of climbing shops that will remove all the packaging to give back to DMM (a climbing kit producer) as soon as you buy something nice for your rack and compostable containers for foods.
Currently our Grŵp Datblygu Llanberis Development Group (an organized association representing businesses, community groups and residents) is in discussions with Alec and our local Councillor about how we can support and encourage all businesses providing services to Yr Wyddfa visitors to also undertake Alec’s audit and progress on their own plastic-free journey!
Rob Nicholson runs Gwesty Plas Coch in Llanberis with his wife Fiona. Rob is a Mountain Leader, Social Care Support Worker and a Volunteer with Cymdeithas Eryri and Pentref Taclus Llanberis. He is Secretary and Treasurer to Grŵp Datblygu Llanberis.