To me, conservation tourism isn’t just about facilitating guest experiences in nature, but rather, it is about ensuring that guests walk away from their experience having gained a new appreciation for the systems they have interacted with. When I first spoke with Crist about spending my summer at Chan Chich, we mostly discussed working on developing a hydroponic food production system at the lodge. Not only would this system serve as a food supplier for the kitchen, but would also have an interactive educational aspect so guests could learn about the process. While this project is still a focal point of my internship, sustainability isn’t just about improving one aspect of a system, just like good conservation tourism is about having a medley of experiences.
When strengthening both the guest experience and sustainable operations at Chan Chich, it isn’t enough to just focus on what is going in to the kitchen. Rather, it is essential to focus on what is coming out of the kitchen as well.
Sustainable waste management has been important to the operations at Chan Chich for some time now. However, never before has these processes been visible to guests. While the hydroponic project is still under development, applying the project’s ideas of sustainable technology and guest education to waste management in the meantime is highly beneficial.
A new three bin composting unit.
Composting is an environmentally friendly way to manage waste. The composting process uses the natural decomposition cycle to break down organic waste and produce a natural soil amendment. Ultimately, the finished compost can be used on soil to help the next generation of plants grow. By using a composting system at Chan Chich, not only can we remove wastes in a sustainable way, but we can also reintegrate it into its agriculture practices.
The three bin system in particular will do an excellent job at accomplishing this task. In the composting process, small organisms called microbes work to break down organic material. In the three bin system, inputs are placed in to the first bin, then after a significant amount of microbial activity, are turned into the bin next to it and so on. This process aerates the compost and provides the oxygen critical for the microbes’ survival and thus the continuation of the composting process. What’s more, the 3’ x 3’ x 3’ bin size is large enough to hold the weekly volume of kitchen waste produced at Chan Chich. With both the critical mass of the waste as well as the continual aeration, finished compost can be produced in as little as 3 weeks.
Ultimately, we plan on placing the system outside of the kitchen area near the bike rack. By having a visible, yet secluded area, and by fastening the bins with water resistant thatch (a quality essential to the composting process as too much water can inhibit microbial activity), the unit will not only match the surrounding architecture but allow guests to view and learn about sustainable waste management as well.
Within the next few weeks, I not only hope to have the system up and running, but also build a display so guests can learn more about our efforts to manage waste sustainably. The best sustainable innovations have a social aspect, just like the best conservation tourism experiences have a learning aspect. Composting is the epitome of this intersection. Who knew “waste” could have so much value?