Two hours to the top via steps. 3

What’s in a Plate? 07/18/11

Gary Hirson heads up Table Mountain for breakfast and gets an environmental lesson in the process.

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Table Mountain has just made it into the final 28 of the 7 Natural Wonders of The World Competition, so I thought that it would be a good reason to take a hike to the top.

After a couple of hours, I make my way into the revamped restaurant – Table Mountain Café – perched right at the top of the mountain.

Two hours to the top via the Plattekloof Gorge steps.

Ravenously hungry, I make a beeline for the buffet when I suddenly realise I’m holding what seems to be a paper plate, my worst nightmare. I absolutely hate them and the way they collapse, becoming soggy and useless.

“Where’s the manager?” I yell at the counter hand. Shortly, then food and beverage manager, Andrew Thomas, comes along to find out what is bothering me.

“I’ve just spent two hours hiking up this natural beauty, I’m ravenous, and I want to enjoy the view while eating my breakfast. How can you expect me to eat off a paper plate?”

“Well sir it’s not actually paper. In fact they’re made from bagasse and sugar cane pulp and they’re 100% biodegrable and compostable.” Andrew explains.

Feeling the need to justify my outburst, I counter, “Well I’m sure it’s going to get soggy and crumble half way through my fruit salad and yoghurt!”

“Sir, I assure you, you won’t experience anything of the sort,” he smiles back.

Dishing up. These are no ordinary paper plates.

Mumbling under my breath I turn to the food counter and hold out my plate to be filled with fruit. I notice a sign hanging behind the counter: “We have chosen to conserve water and minimise pollution by introducing compostable containers for our food instead of using washable crockery…”

The sign says it all: A small choice. A big difference.

Still grumbling, I find a quiet spot in the corner of the balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the Twelve Apostles. Tucking into my healthy breakfast I overhear an Australian accent commenting about his plate, stacked with a full English breakfast.

Even the local wildlife is taken by the new eco-friendly plates.

I lean across and moan at the Ozzies, “So what do you think of these new biodegradable plates. They look a bit dodgy, don’t they?”

The Queenslander replies in good Australian fashion, “If it’s good for the environment then it’s good enough for me mate.”

I sulk into my breakfast, seething at not being able to find reinforcements to take on management.

Andrew, noticing my displeasure, comes over and sits down.

“Sir, Table Mountain is one of Cape Town’s most visited attractions with approximately 800 000 people visiting the summit per year,” he starts.

“We are very aware of the potential negative impact that such high traffic tourism can have and we’re committed to environmentally sound and sustainable business practices. One of the main resources used by the Cableway is water, and fresh water has to be transported from the bottom and all grey water and sewerage has to be sent down using the cable cars. The restaurant is the major user of water, with the kitchen using up to 80% of all transported water. Among other measures to reduce the water usage at the top station, we decided that the new Table Mountain Café use compostable plates and containers as dishwashing is the largest water consumer within the restaurant setting.”

“Okay, so how much water are you saving then?”

“Since the implementation of the compostable plates we’ve reduced water consumption from 1.3 litres to only 0.5 litres per person, saving 1 million litres per year. Less water means we’ve reduced the amount of water carrying trips by as much as 215 trips per year, obviously reducing our electricity usage. Because of this initiative we recently won the Imvelo Award for-Best Single Resource Management Programme in the water category.”

The sewerage tank holds tight.

“So what happens to the plates then?”

“The used plates are processed and will biodegrade into compost – which is sold.”

Not knowing when I’m truly beaten, and clutching at straws, I alter my tack.“From which you’ll financially benefit?”

“We make no money from the sale of the compost,” Andrew finishes off before leaving.

Looking down at my compostable plate, that hasn’t turned soggy, I notice that my fruit salad and yoghurt has turned to humble pie.

Soggy paper plates? I think not.

Vote now:

Table Mountain has just made it into the last 28 of the 7 Natural Wonders of The World Competition. Please vote to ensure she wins. or SMS TABLE to 34874

Gary Hirson is a professional photographer, writer and author of children’s books. His love for interesting people, places and ideas, makes his portraits, travel and reportage pieces, an easy fit with his inquisitive personality. As outdoor hiking is one of his passions – climate change, sustainability and renewable energies are issues that are close to his heart.

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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.

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3 Responses to this article

Jodi Allemeier July 18, 2011 Reply

Right, but how much water goes into growing the crops and manufacturing the plates?

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Editor: Laura July 18, 2011 Reply

Let’s see if we can find an answer…

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Editor: Laura July 18, 2011 Reply

Hi Jodi,

This is the response from Sabine Lehmann
Chief Executive Officer Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Co. Ltd, which I think provides a good context.

“The issue is not that water has been saved overall – it is still much greener to reuse.
The mantra is: reduce, reuse, recycle in THAT order.
Our issue specifically on Table Mountain was a water issue. So in our case it is greener and better to reduce our water usage.
But if water was not an issue then it would always be better to have reusable crockery.”

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