I was in Auckland, New Zealand last week for the 13th APacCHRIE (Asia-Pacific Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education) Conference. During my stay, I had a chance to experience sustainable tourism in New Zealand. I was especially impressed with the country’s effort in minimizing waste.

First and foremost, I liked the "bio loo" — composting toilets used in country’s park and recreation areas. Not only does the bio loo use zero power, zero water and zero chemicals, it also puts human waste back to the soil as natural fertilizer, which in turn benefits the nature. Here is how a bio loo works:

  • The bio loo is built with natural and recycled materials (e.g., woods for the walls and recycled plastic for storing human waste).
  • It uses natural lighting and non-powered exhaust fans.
  • Alcoholic sanitizer is used for hand washing instead of water.
  • Humans can use the toilet as they normally do but they must make sure everything (including toilet paper) goes into the bio loo, which is made of recycled plastic.
  • Instead of flushing the toilet with water, all waste should be covered with sawdust.
  • Waste will then be kept in a compositing chamber that is attached to the bottom of the toilet. Anaerobic composting will then take place in the compositing chamber (pathogens will also be killed in this environment).

Does this idea sound disgusting to you? I felt the same way when I first heard about the bio loo, but I was "bold" enough to give it a trial. It turned out the bio loo was much nicer than I expected.

The toilet does not smell at all because everything is covered with sawdust — honestly, I could only smell the natural scent of woods. I even found the bio loo was much cleaner than most public restrooms I had used in the past.

Because the bio loo requires no water, no electricity, and no chemicals, it can be easily installed in almost all locations. When human waste goes back to the soil, it creates no pollution but nutrients to plants. What a brilliant idea!

There is no need to question how well those natural fertilizers would do to plants either. Human waste has been widely used as fertilizers in China for thousands of years (sadly, that is probably not the case any more). Until today, the picky eaters in China still prefer to eat free-range animals and the vegetables grown in the land where is rich in natural fertilizers.

Besides the bio loo in park and recreation areas, all toilets in Auckland have two buttons for better control of water flow. The idea is to have people use full flush only when it is necessary to conserve water and further minimize waste.

The last example came from the Rydges Hotel Auckland, where I stayed during this trip. The hotel offers a "make a green choice" option for travelers. Hotel guests may choose to opt out the housekeeping service for a NZ $10 voucher that can be redeemed in the hotel’s restaurants or food-and-beverage outlets.

Even though that is a very common practice in the lodging industry, I feel the Rydges Hotel Auckland rewards travelers more for their green choice than other hotels do — most hotels would only reward travelers a $5 voucher or 500 additional reward points for opting out the housekeeping service.

Here, I cannot say New Zealand is doing a perfect job in sustainable tourism. In fact, I would like to see the country takes better control over gasoline emissions from automobiles because I noticed some heavy smells of exhaust gas on the street. I do believe, however, New Zealand has done a superior job in minimizing waste. Would you agree?

Want to browse pictures I took during this trip? Check out the photo album on my Facebook page.