Making our Trip to Cornwall as Sustainable as possible

Newquay Beach

It would be wrong for me to label this trip as sustainable, because we flew, and we all know just how unsustainable that it. Flying practically wipes out all your carbon savings from living a low-waste life.

I’ve made my peace with this. We tried the ferry, but after one of the most horrendous crossings in my life, I’ve sworn myself off them for life. Also we only allow ourselves one personal flight a year and given I’ve only one life I’m just not willing to spend all of it in Ireland.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t do my best to keep the impact of our holiday as low as possible, despite flying. This summer we decided to holiday in Cornwall, England, fulfilling a long-held wish of mine at the same time; a trip to the Eden Project. Here’s how our trip went.

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Mevagissey Village
Port Isacc

We flew into Newquay and spent 4 nights there, then onto Hayle for another 3 nights, then St Austell for 2 nights, then just outside Eden for 3 more and then back to Newquay for 1 last night.  Our holiday was full of the typical Cornish fair; beaches, museums, amusement parks, Cornish pasties and ice cream.

What i packed

Over the years I’ve learned to bring the bare minimum of clothes when I holiday. Not only does this help reduce washing when you get home, it also reduces the amount of fuel required to transport your luggage. I’ve found that having access to washing machines at your destination can help to reduce the amount you bring even less.  This is what I packed for this 2 week trip. It includes;

  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 2 strappy tops
  • 2 racer back tops
  • 5 t-shirts; 1 blue, 1 striped, 1 white, 2 black
  • 1 pairs of jeans
  • 2 pairs of light trousers
  • 2 pairs of pyjamas
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 navy cardigans
  • 3 swimsuits
  • 1 hat

Not shown in the bundle are a pair of pumps, underwear and socks and what I wore the day we flew, which included

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 t-shirt
  • 1 pair of shoes
  • 1 black cardigan
  • 1 coat
  • 1 belt

To be honest I could have done with another pair of jeans or trousers and another skirt but I survived and was very glad of having less washing to do when I got home.

Zero Waste Kit

I also packed a mini zero-waste kit, which included

  • reusable bottles
  • reusable cups
  • reusable coffee cups
  • reusable shopping bags
  • stainless steel straws
  • reusable plastic cutler (I’ve only shown a few here, we brought more)
  • cotton produce bags

Staying in budget hotels on this trip made it nigh on impossible to holiday sustainably. Even the towels that we’d hung up to avoid being washed were taken away and replaced with new towels. (Note: This article was originally written in 2017, so hopefully things have moved on since). We did buy our own shampoo and conditioner on the trip to avoid using the small bottles the hotels give but the one we stayed in had shampoo in refillable wall-mounted dispensers so this really wasn’t necessary.

Trying to find package free food outside of restaurants was a real challenge and it was very difficult to get any packaging we did accumulate into the recycling stream. There was no recycling bins in the hotel rooms; everything just went into together and most public bins were not segregated.

So I started stockpiling packaging and food scraps in the hopes of finding a recycling centre or recycling banks that might take them. I did find a recycling bank (see below) but unfortunately it didn’t take plastic or organic waste and when we went to the trouble of finding a recycling centre it only took plastic types 7 & 9, which was of no use to us. It was only when we got to the YHA hostel in Eden we’re we able to put our waste into composting and recycling streams. Although I noticed that a lot of the residents didn’t seem to be aware of what should go in which bin and there wasn’t a lot of direction available.

recycling bank in St Austell

I feel like I trashed Cornwall over our two-week holiday, much to my disappointment but we did what we could. I’ve written an article on how to reduce your environmental impact when travelling. Just click on the link to read.

Eden Biomes
Eden Core Building

Visiting the Eden project felt like a coming of home of sorts. There wasn’t a huge amount of evidence of environmental awareness in Cornwall so I was really looking forward to immersing myself in the sustainable bosom of this mecca. I found the setting of Eden to be very emotive, its such an unusual vista, and I loved it’s core message about careful management of resources and our planet. I felt that this very noble message jarred with the size and content of the gift shop, where there seemed to be no suggestion that you limit purchases only to what you need. Also there seemed to be a lot of plastic food packaging available on site. Maybe it’s unavoidable when you’re feeding such a huge quantity of people.

I emailed Eden about the amount of plastic food packaging and was told by reply that they are constantly looking for alternatives to the plastic packaging in the Kids’ DIY Bag Offer and the wrapping for adult sandwiches etc but that the volume of visitors that they cater for daily – anything from 3,000 to 11,000 per day – makes the disposables the best option at the moment. They added that they’d successfully introduced a hot children’s food offer and that this has drastically reduced the volume of the Kids’ DIY offer and will hopefully give them the opportunity to review some of the single use items they’ve have relied upon until now.

I asked about the prevalence of disposable wooden cutlery and was told taht this should only have been used in emergencies and that they’ve reminded the hospitality manager of this. They added that during the years 2016/2017, they only sent 12% of their waste to landfill/incineration.

Eden purchases

A lot of the stuff in the Eden gift shop was compostable, recyclable or made from natural materials with the funds of some going to charities or NGO’s but by no means all of it.  I managed to resist most things  but I did invest in some stainless steel water bottles at £7.50 each, some Luffa seeds – so I can grow my own, and a necklace made from coconut shelves.

Eden YHA pods

We stayed at the YHA hostel on the site of Eden for 3 days. The hostel is made from a series of converted shipping containers, which my kids loved.

Eden YHA pods
Eden YHA pods
Eden YHA pods

The YHA hostel was the only place on our trip where we could do a bit of cooking, which was a relief after all of the pre-made sandwiches we’d dined on up to then. And thankfully the hostel offered recycling and composting facilities but I’d question how successful they were given the level of contamination I witnessed in the communal kitchen.

When I returned home I emailed them to ask if it was requirement to clean out recyclables or fully separate recyclables in Cornwall (it’s not in some places).  They responded saying that ‘we do all the things you suggest, however trying to get that message across to some of our guests can be a bit of a problem’, which I thought was such a strange answer because I didn’t suggest anything, I only asked questions. I followed up with another email, this time with a few suggestions, but didn’t get a response, which was very disappointing.

beach clean up
M&S recylcing bin
Organic coffee in Sainsbury
loose snacks in Holland and Barrett

As a tourist, I didn’t get the sense that Cornwall was very clued in to sustainability but I’m happy to report that not one store blinked when we asked to use our reusable coffee cups or cotton produce bags and I did manage to spot a few planet positive initiatives, which I’ve shown above.  All in all we had a fantastic time in Cornwall, the scenery was stunning, the food was good and everyone we met were amazingly friendly and welcoming.

Elaine & Paul

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

2 thoughts on “Making our Trip to Cornwall as Sustainable as possible

  1. Great blog post again Elaine, you really pack lots of info in

    On 4 Aug 2017 15:13, “living lightly in ireland” wrote:

    elainebutler posted: ” This summer we wanted to go on a short flight for > our holidays so we plumped for Cornwall, England, fulfilling a long-held > wish of mine at the same time; a trip to the Eden Project. We flew into > Newquay spent 4 nights there, then onto Hayle” >


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