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GRAY AREA from the Phuket Gazette


The Evason's environmental czar, Arnfinn Oines, with his impressive compost pile.

Amonth ago, the UN In- tergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it plain that if humankind doesn't change its habits in the very near future that global warming will become irreversible. Already, there is nothing we can do to stop the degradation for the next two or three decades.

Ironically, the bad news comes as medical science doubles in knowledge every five years. Live right and live a century - nothing unusual for today's healthy people.

Once we get rid of "Dubbya" and his ridiculous stem-cell research ban, longevity will take us into the era of stem cell organ repairs, genetically controlled life spans and longevity with quality of life measured in centuries, not decades.

You might be here long enough to confront the question, "Grandpa (or -ma), why did you kill the environment before I was born?" That may be only 50 years away, if that.

Like so many diseases, global warming is preventable. Refusing to take immediate action demonstrates a close-minded disrespect for the sea, the atmosphere and our own children.

We can't blame boat crews and tourists alone. Greater responsibility lies at the feet of incompetent owners and managers for not training staff and educating guests.

Humans may be clever enough to create toys that assault the marine environment - styrofoam and plastic that kills our favorite marine animals and exhaust that pollutes the air we breathe - but our lack of concern for the UN Climate Change wake-up call questions our ability to survive as a species.

Even worse, as we self-destruct, we take our environment down with us. In fact, 30% of all species worldwide are in imminent threat of extinction thanks to human impact.

After 19 years living on one of the world's great land bridges, I finally saw a frog two months ago. When was the last time you saw a frog? Who cares? Turn up the aircon, honey.

At least one Phuket hotel cares. I've asked for examples of environmental innovation in this column, at trade association and service club meetings, and with personal calls, but no hotel has forwarded their environmental practices except the Evason Phuket.

The Evason claims a commitment "to developing a sustainable environment by using the indicators set out by Green Globe".

The Evason's on-property "Eco-park", goes a long way toward that goal by: "Reducing water consumption through management of freshwater resources, preserving our ecosystem within our resort as well as nearby surrounding areas, utilizing and managing our land to preserve the environment and provide a natural habitat for wildlife and vegetation, treat wastewater to avoid polluting discharges, and minimize waste production through reduction, reuse and recycling of products."

The Evason Phuket certainly has enough to talk about, and so remains the only focus of the "Gray Area" travel industry environmental series - sad for a destination with more than 300 guest lodgings in an industry growing so fast the Tourism Authority of Thailand can't even keep a tally of them.

This month we explore Evason Phuket's trash and composting cycle, a classic example of turning rubbish into gold - from separation to composting, gray water and gardening. In the process, the typical rubbish dump is transformed into a picturesque "Eco-park" that would make any property proud.

The Evason gives environmentally concerned guests free tours of this unique system, including the picturesque pond, gardens and Thai cooking classes using herbs and vegetables grown from the scraps off the dining room table.

Most hotels simply sell their garbage to pig farms. (I have high regard for pigs, smarter than dogs and majestic animals in the wild. It's only when we force them into the farm that they lose their dignity - allowing us to justify eating such an intelligent animal.)

Instead of making quick baht on garbage, Evason Phuket collects everything and separates it nine different ways - I saw glass, metal, plastic, vegetable matter, cooking oils, paper and cardboard cartons, ceramic, and toxic and wet garbage.

Evason Phuket's written policy is to create environmental awareness in their guests and staff. Low-key environmental messages are everywhere. "Hosts" receive entry-level and ongoing environmental training, and the hotel "Walks the Talk", always to the benefit and enjoyment of Evason Phuket guests.

Twice I have taken their on-property nature walk that's free to guests every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

I highly recommend all travel industry managers, community leaders and anybody interested in your children's future call Evason Phuket Environment Coordinator Arnfinn Oines at 076-381010 to join a tour. It's a "must do" for all resort planners and developers, hotel GMs and anybody with even a small backyard.

Start and finish at the front desk, walk past the water lilies and down to the wood shredding shed. Close by is the rubbish facility, divided eight ways and complete with wood chipper. The compost piles are next to the rubbish bin, with the tropical nursery appropriately between the compost and the "gray water" pond filled with hyacinth doing their bit to clean the water.

Gazette columnist and fellow kayaker Dave Williams estimates up to 150 bird species pass by the pond on an annual basis. I saw about a dozen on my two April trips.

Tropical plants grow everywhere in the richest black dirt I have seen since coming to Thailand, all oozing with the fertility of compost. On a stifling hot Songkhran day I sat under a thick shade tree packed with plants, in one of the most tranquil and picturesque off-the-beach spots in Phuket - in the middle of a five-star resort. And the entire picture was painted with the scraps of food left on the dining table by the hotel's guests.

So what is composting, and why is it so good? You don't need a large hotel to compost. Anybody with a reasonable back-yard can compost, diverting organic garbage away from the land-fill and back into the salad bowl.

Composting is simple. It recreates the decaying of plant materials on the jungle floor, called humus. This is the efficient and natural process that keeps jungle soil nutritious, a closed and highly efficient system for recycling nutrients and soil conditioners that keeps the ecosystem balanced and fertile for eons.

If it rots, it works in compost. Collect your cuttings, gather your garbage, let it rot, and grow the next round of organic veggies. The only cost for this power-packed mulch is gathering it in the first place. Compost increases soil texture, adds nutrients, increases aeration, and increases water-holding ability. Beach resorts take note - composting is noted for making sandy soils fertile.

Various microorganisms keep the soil balanced and actually produce hydrogen, potassium and phosphorus naturally. Rubbish is a big problem everywhere in Thailand, especially on overdeveloped tourist islands like Koh Samui and the Phi Phi islands, and composting diverts all organic matter from public rubbish dumps, or in Phuket's case, a high-energy-consuming high-heat incinerator. Too bad that compost doesn't eat plastic bags, another chronic problem.

Technology now quantifies compost for the optimum heat, moisture, air, organisms and materials to speed up compost processing, allowing less space to accomplish the process - important for hotels and small yards.

Composting and organic gray water treatment isn't for everybody. The entire system including the pond, plant nursery, vegetable garden, mushroom shed, garbage separation system and composting station takes up about three rai, including the one-rai pond. Properly landscaped, as Evason Phuket is, the "Recycling Garden" is a relaxing venue, value-added amenity and marketing tool - and plenty of Phuket hotels have space to do this.

For me, the efficient layout and beautiful landscaping of what is normally the ugly "back of the house" rubbish dump was most impressive. Evason Phuket's "Eco-park" not only manages rubbish with dignity and efficiency, it places the highest-quality organic veggies on the dining room table and offers a bonanza of tropical plants that inhabit the entire resort, it also doubles as a resort asset for quiet reverie. With the cost of land in Phuket and surroundings, what hotel or resort isn't interested in turning negative eyesore space into a tropical garden?

For composting at home check out  www.gardenorganic.org.uk/organicgardening/gh_comp.php and www.compostguide.com

Send your responsible practices, comments and suggestions to info@johngrayseacanoevietnam.com.

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