The water bottling station, which will see international visitors to Rarotonga receive a refillable aluminum water bottle in place of plastic water bottles, is the most recent environmental conservation initiative by the largest inbound tourism company founded 30-years ago with a focus on sustainable tourism.
The road away from plastic bottles has been a long one, said Turama Pacific managing director Robert Skews.
“Today is the fruition of five-years of planning and begging and after a lot of rejections, we got special help from Metua Vaiimene (Cook Islands Tourism) and Maria Tuoro from the Ridge2Reef programme and the project moved from a dream to a plan,” Skews said at the launch.
“Our company has always been at the forefront of sustainable tourism but maybe not out front so much about what we do as some companies, but working away in the background.”
Skews explained that in 2014 they could see that there were waste issues with plastics and looked at introducing aluminum water bottles.
“We tried to get local companies interested in doing this and we would buy from them but after 12 months and no progress, we knew that if we wanted this to happen we had to drive it,” says Skews.
By 2016 the company had samples and pricing from a number of suppliers and at the time realised they needed some seed funding to get this project off the ground.
“All we needed was a kick start and we could remove we believe between 200,000 and 250,000 plastic water bottles per year from the dump – based on average stays of 9.5 days and estimates that each person we serviced buying three bottles of water during their stay.”
Skews said they had almost given up on the project when in February, 2018 Metua Vaiimene from Cook Islands Tourism had talks with the team at Ridge2Reef and secured $34,000 towards the project.
“We have spent over $60,000 so far on the project to get it going and from here on – there are no more costs to anyone and we save all those plastic bottles going to the tip each year.”
Skews also said while funds were available to government and non-government organisations there is little opportunity for the private sector to access them for worthwhile projects.
“I do take my hat off, to companies like CITC and many others, who I believe, have led the way for some time, in reducing non compostable items coming into the country and getting rid of plastics and polystyrenes etc.”
Turama House in Nikao has had filtered and UV treated water available in the building and for staff to take home for over 16 years.
This same water will now go through the Ozone Treatment method (activated oxygen) – which kills 99.99 per cent of bacteria and germs – a “double-wammy” method as Skews describes it, to provide the “best drinkable water”.
The Ozone treatment plant at Turama House will also be used to sanitise and clean bottles – as well as purify water.
The new water bottling station was officially opened by Ridge2Reef project coordinator Hayley Weeks who commented that the initiative is exactly the kind of environmental conservation project they encourage and support.