Zero waste to landfill – can we do it?

If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance that you have heard of the “3 R’s” before. In fact, it would probably be quite difficult these days to find someone who hasn’t… “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” It’s quite a catchy little slogan, isn’t it? And a simple guide to better waste management. 

But don’t you sometimes wonder if this well-known battle cry of the eco warrior might be glossing over something? Does the fact that it’s easy to remember bewitch us into thinking that as long as we remember those 3 little R’s, our environmental woes will disappear? Can we just indiscriminately consume the resources of the planet as long as we drop things in the recycling bin when we’re done with them?

If you’ve ever heard yourself or one of your colleagues say, “But we recycle…”, take a few minutes to watch some of the fast-paced, animated documentaries produced by an organisation in the USA, called “The Story of Stuff Project”. In the spirit of finding better ways of doing things, we recommend one of our favourites, called the “Story of Solutions”.

rethinking wasteSo… in addition to recycle, reuse, reduce, it would seem like there is a need for another “R”; a more fundamental “R” perhaps which is “Rethink”. We need to rethink how we are consuming our natural resources and the energy required to create more ‘stuff’. Do we need it in the first place? How much do we really need? What type will we choose? How was it produced? How can we use it with maximum efficiency before eventually disposing of it? How do we dispose of it responsibly? These are some of the questions we should be asking ourselves as we rethink our approach to consumption and the management of the waste that it generates.

In fact, to create a more responsible hospitality sector and to do our part for a better South Africa, let’s look at adding not just that one but a couple of R’s so that the waste management strategy in our businesses is at its most effective.

Rs of recycling waste
A new flow for more responsible waste managment in your business


replacing single use plastics
Click to enlarge this inforgraphic on how the tourism industry can stop using single-use plastics

A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog here about responsible purchasing. It contained quite a few tips regarding what sustainability labels you can look for when you are stocking up. By choosing them, you are refusing to buy products that are not produced sustainably. If you missed it, you can still read it here.

Single use and disposable items not only consume huge amounts of natural resources in order to be created, but they also generate huge volumes of waste – waste that your business ultimately has to deal with. As such, eliminating (or at least minimising) the use of single use and disposable items should be at the top of your list of items to refuse. In the hospitality sector, these include

  • plastic bottled water
  • plastic packaging
  • room amenities
  • coffee pods
  • milk pods
  • straws
  • sugar sachets
  • individually wrapped jams and butter
  • paper serviettes
  • tea sachets

Did you know that Cape Town’s Hotel Verde recently banned the use of plastic straws in its establishment? It can be done!

recycling information found on packaging
Information regarding whether packaging is recyclable

If the products you purchase are sold in some sort of packaging that cannot be avoided, check for labels that indicate whether the packaging itself is recyclable. If not, you should exercise your consumer voice and refuse to purchase it.

Engage with the relevant company and ask them to provide more responsible packaging: ideally reusable but at least recyclable.

The logos to the right are examples of the types of recycling information you might find on packaging.


How you reduce the amount of waste that you generate through your business’ operations will vary, depending on your context and the nature of your activities. Paper, however, is a commonly produced waste type for most businesses. Consider implementing the following five tips to reduce paper waste:

  1. Introduce a policy of only printing when absolutely necessary.
  2. If printing is required, ensure that it is double sided.
  3. Eliminate the use of envelopes for guest invoices.
  4. Give guests the option of having their invoice emailed to them!
  5. If you offer welcome letters or ‘bedtime stories’ at turndown, avoid personalisation so that they can be used multiple times.

Food waste is another common waste culprit in the hospitality sector. Did you know that, globally, approximately ⅓ of the food produced each year goes uneaten? That equates to about

  • a billion tons of food wasted, every single year
  • a cost of up to $940 billion, every single year
  • an 8% contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions (3rd highest, by country), every single year

Here are five simple tips that you might be able to implement right away:

  1. Offer plated meals instead of buffets. If you must have a buffet, offer to dish for your guests. (You’re right – that’s two tips in one. J )
  2. Ask before preparing, e.g. inquire if someone would like toast before bringing a full basket of it to the table.
  3. Plan menus so that the leftovers from one meal can be used to prepare a dish for the next, e.g. soups and curries.
  4. Ensure that older produce is used first so that you minimise food waste due to spoilage.
  5. Offer mini versions of items like croissants and muffins, and make ½ portions available on suitable menu items.

If you want to get really serious about reducing food loss and waste, you might be interested in checking out the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard. It provides a framework for businesses to measure, report on, and manage food loss and waste, which leads to financial savings and a reduced environmental impact. (, 6 June 2016)


“One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” Another easy saying to remember that reminds us to be mindful of what we actually throw away. There might be another department within our business that can re-use something that we are finished with. For example, empty juice cartons can be repurposed into flowerpots for outdoor tables by some of your creative staff. 

Or there might be organisations in your local area that can use some of the items that you are no longer able to use on site. Consider the following as options for items that you might otherwise have to put in the recycling or the bin:

  • Plastic breadtags can be collected and donated to Breadtags for Wheelchairs where a sufficient number will mean a wheelchair for someone who needs it! Find a collection point near you here.
  • A local school can make use of egg cartons and produce punnets for art classes (e.g. mixing paint) or to support sorting skills.
  • Used teabags can be collected, dried, and donated to Original T Bag Designs where they’ll be refashioned into functional art by an artist at this job creation initiative. Find out how here.

tea bags upcycled into art
Original T Bag Designs refashions used tea bags into functional art
collecting bread bag tags for recylcling
Breadtags for Wheelchairs collects bread bag tags for recycling




Ideally, by the time we get to our recycling bins, there should be very little waste left to deal with. You will have either eliminated it from your business or found a new purpose for it elsewhere. But for those few remaining items and in order to achieve your quest for “zero waste to landfill”, let’s look at the next option: recycling.

First of all, it’s important to understand why we’d want to recycle anyway. If you have ever been to a landfill, this question will not require an answer. If you haven’t been to a landfill, go. You will then understand why recycling waste matters.

The infographic below (created by Change Everything) will give you an idea of how long things take to decompose. Although this varies according to the climate, it clearly illustrated why our landfills quickly start resembling mountains the size of Lion’s Head…

decomposition rates for different materials
Decomposition rates for different materials

Start by sorting your remaining ‘waste’ into what is compostable and what is not. Let’s start with the compost:

According to Full Cycle, more than ½ the waste sent to landfill can be composted. Sending compostable material to landfill is problematic for two main reasons. One is that it exhausts the capacity of the landfill much faster than necessary, putting our City’s land and resources under even greater pressure.

The other is that compostable material, when sent to landfill, doesn’t break down properly. Instead, it ‘suffocates’ underneath everything and emits methane gas – a greenhouse gas that traps 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide! So it’s extremely important to remove compostable materials from your waste stream.

Items that can be composted fall broadly into two categories: garden waste and food waste. These and a couple of other compostable items are shown below:

How composting works
How composting works

There are various methods for composting; the best option for you will depend largely on the volume and types of compostable waste that you generate as well as the size of the space available to you. Small-scale operations tend to opt for worm farms or Bokashi bins, but if you have space then you might consider compost bins or compost heaps.

For those who have the option of transporting compostable materials (especially garden waste) to one of the drop off locations in and around the City, you can have them provide the composting service for you. Click here to see how Reliance Compost – one of the composting enterprises that provides drop off points – keeps huge amounts of energy rich materials out of our City’s landfill sites.

Bins for separating waste
Bins for separating waste

Now that you have the compostable materials removed from your waste stream, you can focus on your non-compostable materials and sort them into recyclable categories. These include:

  • paper and cardboard (keep them dry and not soiled or they won’t be recyclable)
  • glass
  • plastic
  • tins and other metal items


City waste management portal
City waste management portal

If you aren’t sure where to take them, the City of Cape Town has recently launched a helpful web portal that will show you where the nearest recycling drop off point is. Just follow the instructions to indicate your location and the tool will indicate the nearest recycling facility, what can be dropped off, and whether you are in an area serviced by kerbside collection.

Responsible disposal

So what’s left? Well, you will have very few items that actually need to go to landfill, which is fantastic. But among them you might have a few items that require special disposal and which should never be sent to landfill. These include

  • batteries
  • lightbulbs
  • e-waste
  • printer cartridges
  • motor oil

Used cooking oil also requires special disposal and should never be poured down the drain.

Drop off facilities for the above can be found at many retailers; for example, batteries, lightbulbs, and printer cartridges can be taken to most Pick’n’Pays, Woolworths, Builders Warehouse, and Makro. Makro also offers e-waste disposal options. Engine oil can be returned to a garage, while kitchen oil can be sold to Biogreen (and others) where they turn it into bio-diesel. Check the City’s recycling web portal mentioned in the previous section if you need additional drop off location information.

At the end of this, you might find that you do not have any other waste at all! But if you do, make sure that you dispose of it an official landfill site so that it doesn’t end up in the river, the ocean or elsewhere causing pollution.

Making your waste management system work

Ultimately, by rethinking your approach to waste, you will have less to have to manage in the end. But getting this system working smoothly will require 100% commitment by your entire team. Ensure that you provide training for all staff on your new waste management systems.

In order to know whether this revamped waste management system is effective, you should keep track of how much waste you generate. Top marks go to the practice of measuring how much waste is produced by weight, but if this isn’t feasible for you then just use a consistent unit and track your progress over time.

measuring waste by weight
Some Cape Town tourism businesses measure waste by weight

If you need more guidance, remember that there is a helpful “How-to Guide” available online with more tips and case studies of how other businesses manage their waste responsibly.

Rs of recycling waste
Good luck