Upcycling to make your business better

Guests ask: do you recycle? 

Most tourism business owners in Cape Town have some level of awareness of the need to operate sustainably. The City of Cape Town sends regular messages encouraging residents and businesses to save water and electricity, and also provides information on how they can do this. The upshot of this is that many tourism businesses have the easy wins in place – most accommodation establishments are at least partially fitted with energy efficient lighting and are starting to think of resource efficiency when appliances need replacing.

However, there’s less of an awareness of the need to reduce and manage waste so that as little as possible waste goes to landfill. In some areas of Cape Town, recyclable waste put into separate bags is collected by the City, but this doesn’t happen in Green Point. Milou, the B.I.G manager, tells us how guests used to ask her what they could do with their recyclable waste. Seems like “throw it in the bin” was the wrong answer, so B.I.G to put out colourful bins for different types of waste, and recyclables are collected by a collector.

Guests played an important part in the decision to separate waste. The truth is that international guests, particularly those from North America and Europe, have a far better awareness of the problems of waste than South Africans, and are very likely already separating waste at home. TUI Travel, the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world, did a survey to find out what tourists felt about sustainable holidays. 

The research found that a whopping 92% of respondents are already separating their waste for recycling at home and they will most likely not be shocked, horrified or find it unreasonable if accommodation establishments ask them to separate their waste. 

Composting to turn kitchen waste into soil

Already well on the road of sending less waste to landfill, B.I.G’s next challenge is to begin composting food scraps and organic waste. The backpackers serves breakfast and also has communal kitchens for guest to prepare their own meals. Currently, wet waste from the kitchen is thrown in the garbage with the rest of the non-recyclable waste that is collected by the community, but Tal, the manager who looks after the garden, is interested in composting . There are ways of composting and we will help him find the best solution for the business.

Sending less waste to landfill by upcycling

Thus far in the Challenge, B.I.G are our waste champions, and it’s not only because they are separating waste for recycling. Looking around the hostel, B.I.G has a distinctive personality that is very difficult to replicate in large accommodation establishments. The atmosphere certainly reflects the B.I.G team’s personalities – particularly in the personal treatment guests receive, the team spirit among the staff and the lively décor. The décor caught our eye, and we loved that so much of the décor and furniture were either upcycled waste or refurbished. Upcycling is when waste and unwanted items are transformed into something of either a better quality or a new use. This means that very little new raw materials are used, less resources are needed since a new item is not being produced and, of course, less waste lands up in a landfill. And a great advantage is that the upcycled and refurbished items give B.I.G its distinctive ambience.

The frames in the middle has been painted in bright colours and the two on the side have been upcycled from waste timber. These pictures are on the wall above the refurbished chairs, and all together make for very pretty decor.
The frames in the middle have been painted in bright colours and the two on the side have been upcycled from waste timber. These pictures are on the wall above the refurbished chairs, and together make for very pretty decor.
BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
The chairs in the picture are old but have been given a new lick of life with a fresh layer of paint and new upholstery. The coffee table and the frame between the chairs are both made of recycled scrap timber.

BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
An outdoor table and benches were also made from recycled scrap timber – very rustic chic!
BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
An old shoe makes a charming holder for a Hawthornia – a succulent plant indigenous to South Africa.

BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
Old tyres that have been painted and stacked up made a decorative putdoor table.
An old kitchen cabinet painted in some fresh colours brightens up the kitchen/dining area.
An old kitchen cabinet painted in fresh colours brightens up the kitchen/dining area.

Supporting local crafters

B.I.G are already on a responsible tourism journey and the management team are always looking for ways to make the business’s operations more sustainable. Many tourism businesses think that responsible tourism is mostly about minimising its environmental impact and forget about a business’s role in the local economy and community. B.I.G are making contributions even though they may not realise that it improves their responsible tourism credentials. Locally-made crafts are sold at reception and clothes and toiletries left by guests are donated to homeless people in the area, improving relationships with the area’s street people and reducing risk for the business.

Where to from here?

We recorded existing responsible practices at the Backpackers in Green Point during the first site visit. This helped us establish a baseline which we then used to draft a responsible tourism action plan for the business, basically ideas of what more the business can do to operate responsibly. We will also use the baseline to compare the success of the action plan.  

You can read the full results of the initial sustainability evaluation here. However, here are other pictures of the good work B.I.G is doing.  

big backpackers, responsible tourism
Towels are air-dried when possible to avoid the use of the tumble dryer.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Succulent plants have been planted because they need less water.


big backpackers, responsible tourism
Juices and yoghurt is bought in bulk instead of in single servings and small quantities. This reduces packaging waste.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Solar jars are used for ambient lighting at night. They are left in a sunny spot during the day to get recharged.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Corks from wine bottles have been upcycled into a pinboard.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Crafts bought from local crafters are sold at reception.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Guests are asked for feedback that will inform changes that need to be made.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Condiments are not provided in single servings. This reduces packaging waste and saves costs.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Signage asks guests to turn off appliances when not in use to save electricity.
big backpackers, responsible tourism
Blankets in the TV room for use on cold nights means less electricity is needed to heat the space.