BULUNGULA AND THE ENVIRONMENT
As South Africa’s Eco Tourism and sustainable travel pioneer, we believe we are a part of the solution to the planet’s environmental challenges. We have systematically developed this lodge as an example of how one can live in harmony with our environment through reduced consumption, appropriate technologies and creative thinking. We are not perfect, and there’s still much to improve, but we are constantly trying to reduce our carbon footprint.
Since 2004, all Bulungula’s electricity is supplied by solar panels. These panels are used to run the lights, music, satellite phone, computers, water pumps and various battery chargers. We have a large battery bank that can supply the lodge with electricity for up to 5 days of cloudy weather. The key with solar energy is to be constantly aware of how much electricity is being used and to ensure that all appliances are as energy-efficient as possible. The entire lodge uses in 24 hours the same amount of energy as a toaster or a kettle would use in 2 hours!
Bulungula’s water comes from underground water pumped via solar panels for drinking, washing and everything else. Again, the key is to reduce consumption. In this regard we’ve opted for dry, non flushing compost toilets (the flush toilet is one of the world’s most environmentally destructive inventions – humans crap directly into 40% of the world’s piped drinking water!) and water-conserving showers ensure that we use about 60L of water per guest per night (average developed world consumption is about 250L/person/day). We recycle most of our water through the banana circle behind the showers. All shower and basin water goes into the centre of the banana circle creating a wet sponge. The banana and papaya trees send their roots down into this wet nutritious sponge and grow big super fast and thus convert your dirty shower water into healthy, juicy bananas and papayas. Outside the kitchen window is a 3-pond filtration system which removes oils, fats and food particles from the dirty dish water and feeds this water into a small banana circle too.
In 2009 we fenced off the primary dune forest as goats and other domestic animals were decimating it. They eat all the undergrowth including the young trees which means that when the old trees fall, there are no new trees to replace them and the forest will die. This lack of undergrowth allows invasive alien plants like Lantana (pretty multi-coloured flowers) and Inkberry (light-green, leafy bush) to take over as they are poisonous and so won’t be eaten by the goats. Since putting up this fence and removing all the invasive plants, the forest has recovered amazingly – just compare it with the forest immediately south of this fence where all you’ll see is old trees and beach sand beneath them. We have also planted over 10 000 mangrove seeds around the stumps of the dead mangroves in the river. These mangroves drowned during the 1997 drought which resulted in the closing of the river mouth. Many seeds have taken root and there are now over 100 trees and many of them are producing seeds and a second generation of mangrove trees are growing rapidly.
We only burn paper and cardboard and take ALL the rest of the rubbish to Mthatha. This is a costly and time consuming exercise as it’s at least a 2 and a half hour drive. There are recyclers at the dump who ensure plastic and glass is being properly recycled.
Of course Bulungula burns a lot of fossil fuels in the form of diesel used in our shuttle and gas for the stoves. This produces CO2 and thus contributes to global warming. Although we all need to reduce our emissions of CO2 and other green house gasses, the alternative technologies are not always available. One way of mitigating unavoidable emissions is to plant trees that will absorb the CO2 (known as “carbon sinks”) and thus resulting in the impact on the environment being “carbon neutral” (you absorb as much CO2 as you emit). At Bulungula we offset our CO2 emissions by planting slow growing forest trees.
Our CO2 emissions are calculated as follows: The shuttle emits about 12,000 kg of CO2 pel year and the gas stoves emit about 2650kg per year. Smaller items like waste disposal, travel to conferences, etc add another 700kg. This however excludes CO2 emissions by industries in SA producing some of the things we use (food, phones, diesel, clothing, cleaning materials, cars, etc). This is much harder to calculate but a very approximate calculation is 500kg CO2 produced for every R50 000 spent in the SA economy. This translates into a further 10,000kg of CO2 produced indirectly by Bulungula. Thus our total emissions are 25,350kg of CO2 and we therefore need to plant 36 trees per year to offset this and thus render our impact as carbon neutral. We plant/protect more than 40 trees a year and allow many more to grow that would otherwise have been eaten by the goats so in total, Bulungula Lodge absorbs more CO2 than it produces. Average emissions per guest by the lodge (average occupancy at 60%/21 people per night) is about 1200kg of CO2 per year which is very low when compared with the average American/suburban South African (22 000kg of CO2 per year), the average Western European (9 000kg per year) and the average African/Indian (about 1 000kg per year).