Sunday, 11 February 2018

Unsustainable 'sustainability' gives it a bad name

I feel quite passionately about sustainable living. When I worked as Public Affairs Advisor, Environment for Waitakere City Council I learned a lot about water management, waste management and green energy. It has stayed with me ever since and I intend to do more in my private life around those principles. These principles are not difficult to understand and in many sectors are now mainstream. On my way down the North Island I chose an Airbnb that marketed itself as a sustainable business, a farm. The accommodation was in a yurt (a glorified tent) but I felt a little adventure and new experiences would be interesting.

I arrived in Turangi to discover there was no one waiting to check me in. A call to the host had her explaining she had gone to Wellington and left her woofer in charge of the farm and guests. Rather a responsbility for a temporary woofer. I wasted a lot of time driving up and down tryng to find this person so I could unload my stuff. Things did not feel very organised so I got out of the car to find someone to explain to me where to go.
 I met some other guests in an outdoor communal kitchen. It was beyond rustic and cold. It was a jumble of stuff' and I couldn't tell what was clean and what was not. How could it be clean exposed to the open air and dust? I couldn't find a plug for the sink and the tap came off in my hand though the woofer, I was later told, had some plumbing credentials. Another guest , also a blogger, had wanted to boil some water but the dial for a gas element came off  and most of the other gas elements had no dials at all. When the woofer showed up he managed to get one element to work but it all looked rather dangerous. I felt irritated by the lack of amenities and discovered another guest my age was equally irritated and disappointed. We commiserated. Having succeeded in making a cup of tea and sharing our disappointments so far, I headed off to settle in and explore my environs. 

 What an eye-opener. The place looked like a dump. There was rusting equipment everywhere amongst weeds, Broken down stuff piled or spread everywhere. Nothing looked successful, efficient or sustainable. How can piles of metal and plastic tarpaulins lying in grass be sustainable? How can leaking taps and old baths full of stagnant rainwater harbouring mosquito larvae be an example of sustainablilty but I hadn't reckoned on the ablutions. 

In keeping with the'sustainability' idea the management had erected instructions on how to use the composting toilet. I have nothing against composting toilets but this one was too scarey to even lift the lid. The toilet roll was rolling in the dirt and the best equipment consisted of a trowel and spade so you could shovel dirt on your 'business'. As a woman I find it nigh on impossible to control how I pee and poo but the instructions dictated that we must NOT pee while pooing. Ladies, how are your perineum muscles? Sphincters in form?
So where does one do the peeing? On the ground elsewhere as indicated by the sign and damp spot. There I was at night in the dark with my torch trying to spread my knees, jeans around my ankles trying not to splash my legs and shoes in a shared area amongst some trees. Nice. I knew to bring  a torch but didn't know I needed plastic bags or gladwrap for my legs. The vanity was nailed to a tree. Bet the tree didn't find that sustainable either. Though each hut or tent has its own toilet there really isn't privacy as the whole place is pretty communal.

My bed was comfortable but there were four beds in the yurt and I didn't know if other guests would be arriving so I went to bed fully clothed. It rained extremely heavily so I had little sleep worrying about the rain possibly soaking through the canvas roof or flooding in the fields bogging down my car. I could charge my phone but there were no plugs for normal appliances such as laptops or shavers. There wasn't enough light to read by for my eyes It was all too hard. 

The shower was solar but the entry was full of old bikes. The door was makeshift and of limited size and inside? No shower today a couple of us decided. It was not a safe, tidy or clean environment for a female. I understand gardening, permaculture and recycling but all I was seeing was decay, junk, pollution and what seemed to be a misguided hippy idea of what sustainability is all about.  While recycling is good, using old tyres that leach into the gound is not ideal.

It's smoke-free and I'd agree with that but the attitude to smokers (and grammar) seemed a bit brutal.

A phone call to the host had me expressing my disappontment with the facilities but she explained that she'd had a bad season for woofers and couldn't get things done. Where does the farm income come from? A small shadehouse growing veges which the woofers eat and sell and the bnb accommodation. I pointed out that as a business model that is not sustainable and  she needs a better standard with more marketing. I admit, young people with limited experience of life and sustainabiity might think it was just a basic adventure roughing it but we two older ladies saw the glaring problems and darker side of so-called sustainabiliy. To be sustainable a business must be successful and it must demonstrate true sustainability principles. It should be accountable and it should be of a manageable size. This one is out of control. 

Air bnb accommodation is not regulated. You stay at your own risk so at 6.30 am the next day, after only 2 hours sleep with only a short string of fairy lights to illuminate my tent I decided to beat a retreat. I will not be back.


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