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Hostel adopts environmental measures to combat plastic bottle waste

Hostel adopts environmental measures to combat plastic bottle waste
Erik Karl and his Purikor water filtration system at Tower Bridge Hostel.

When the number of discarded plastic bottles soared to 150 bottles a day at a local hostel, owner Erik Karl decided it had to stop.

Erik bought Tower Bridge Hostel in Puerto Escondido in 2015, renovated it and brought it up to modern standards. Within two years, the hostel was hosting 50 people most nights, creating strong demand for the plastic bottles and aluminum cans of water and soda being sold from a fridge in the reception area.

Erik calculated that people were buying, on average, three plastic bottles of liquid a day, either in the hostel or elsewhere. When the hostel was full, guests generated 150 plastic bottles of waste daily. For Erik, it was too much.

Initially, the drinks supplier couldn’t understand why Erik would no longer accept drinks in plastic bottles or cans. They were puzzled by his insistence on reusable glass bottles. “When they brought crates of plastic bottles, wrapped in even more plastic, I sent them back.”

It took a while for the drinks company to accept things were different at Tower Bridge. Now Erik sees a lot more crates of glass bottles on the truck that are being delivered to other businesses. The only plastic bottles sold at the hostel are the electrolyte drinks, which are unavailable in any other bottle.

Hostel owner Erik Karl
Hostel owner Erik Karl persuaded a supplier to deliver drinks in glass bottles rather than plastic.

The switch to glass bottles reduced the number of plastic bottles in the hostel’s trash but didn’t remove them altogether. Guests were still buying plastic bottles elsewhere, primarily bottled water, and bringing them to the hostel.

In 2020 Erik invested a substantial amount of money in a proper water filtration system delivered from Chihuahua. It took a while for people to become accustomed to using filtered water but today, guests bring almost zero plastic water bottles. Erik is a numbers man and has calculated that this system has removed 72,400 plastic water bottles from the garbage per year.

Another source of plastic waste was the numerous containers of detergents and chlorine for the pool. Erik removed this problem by buying refillable 20-liter detergent and chlorine containers, which last at least five years.

To further avoid plastic waste, Erik shops at environmentally conscious organic food stores like Señor Salud in Costa Chica, Verde Puerto in Rinconada, and Moringa in La Punta. He encourages others to do the same. These stores and more avoid using single-use plastics, operate with reusable containers, and sell high-quality organic and local food. As Puerto becomes more popular with environmentally conscious visitors and new residents, the demand for eco-friendly stores increases.

“The level of unnecessary waste in Puerto is a tragedy,” says Erik. He admitted that seeing the level of plastic pollution in town and the surrounding countryside was heartbreaking.

But what is more upsetting to Erik is the complete indifference of so many people. He describes how some hostel guests are careful never to leave any waste after them and how they meticulously recycle in separate bins. Then some guests don’t care and leave trash where they please.

To promote environmental awareness, Erik plans to paint murals in the hostel to explain the positive effects of using the hostel’s purified water. The murals will also be used to educate guests on how everyone can play a role in environmental protection.

Much of the furniture sold in Puerto Escondido is created from cheap and harmful materials and processed using wasteful and polluting factory techniques. It is not built to last, is hard to recycle, is not desirable enough to resell so it ends up in a landfill. Erik has avoided using environmentally harmful furniture by building his own. He has bought local wood at La Asunción, a building supply store in Puerto, and constructed about 75 pieces in the last two years.

Señor Salud in Costa Chica
Señor Salud in Costa Chica invites customers to bring their own reusable containers.

Next up, Erik plans to install solar panels on the roof and produce electricity. According to Mexican National Meteorological Service data, Puerto Escondido receives an average of 322 sunny days yearly. Installing solar panels here is a wise investment for homes and businesses that want to reduce energy costs, increase their property value, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Manuel Antonio Méndez of local firm Energía Solar Arenas says the initial cost of installing all the necessary equipment ranges from 85,000 to 105,000 pesos (US $4,700 to $5,800), depending on your situation. Manuel says the money saved on electricity bills covers that initial cost in about three years. After that, you have a monthly Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) bill of 500 pesos to cover the cost of CFE’s service. Modern solar panels can last up to 25 years.

Conducting a cost-benefit analysis before investing in solar panels is advisable, but you will more than likely save money in the long run. You will also help to protect the environment.

Erik told me an interesting anecdote about his sister and 11-year-old niece in Germany. They have joined a plastic recycling initiative called Plastic Fisherman. This innovative project encourages parents and children to look for plastic waste in their local areas, particularly on beaches. The kids are taught how to make images of fish with plastic.

Photos are taken of the fish and uploaded onto the Plastic Fish Instagram account. The plastic is then disposed of properly. The movement has become very popular worldwide, and now Erik’s niece constantly asks her mother to take her out to look for plastic.

It is also worth mentioning the incredible work of https://preciousplastic.com/. This Dutch company has set up a global network of plastic recycling business people. The best part is that anyone can do it. They teach people how to assemble machinery that recycles plastic to make new products like building blocks, functional household objects, or fancy furniture. Precious Plastic has been operating for 10 years, expanding its network worldwide.

These are just a few examples of intelligent ways to fight the war on plastic and to help protect the environment. There is hope with projects like these and the efforts of conscientious environmentalists like Erik. But we need more people to fight. Will you be one of them?

Patrick Sheehy is an Irishman who has been living in Puerto Escondido, on and off, since 2005. He has a degree in psychology and experience in various fields including teaching, tour-guiding, writing, working with adults with intellectual disabilities and organic horticulture.


  1. What an excellent article on plastic, recycling, and where to buy organic food.
    What Erik the hostel owner has done is amazing. I hope other people follow in his shoes!
    I loved the Erik’s nieces recycling plastic and making art out of it program in Germany. Very creative.


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