Plastic Free Champion with The Great House B&B. A feature in the October 2021 issue

Plastic Free B&B - The Great House B&B, Exmoor

The great house B&B exmoor plastic free champions

We catch up with Sheila Harvey- Larmar to find out how they make sure their hospitality business is as green as possible. Discover their efforts for sourcing plastic free packaging options and how you can start implementing more eco-friendly practices for your own business.

Potential guests are more switched on than ever regarding environmental responsibility, but not just for their own lifestyles.

More and more, people are checking the environmental policies of the places they escape to for well-earned holidays.

But despite how popular environmental responsibility is becoming, it can be quite difficult to know where to start, especially if it concerns your business.

How can you implement more ethical and environmentally friendly practices?

We approached The Great House B&B to discover what they do to help the environment and how they earned the title ‘Plastic Free Champions’ as part of an initiative organised by Surfers Against Sewage, a grassroots movement that has grown into one of the UK’s most active environmental charities.

Sheila Harvey-Larmar and her husband Bruce own and run the Grade II listed accommodation in Exmoor and their business ethos was built with the environment in mind. “From the very first day we have been constantly working to improve our eco credentials.

“It’s all about what you’re doing to reduce what would normally be used in the business, making conscious decisions and a conscious effort,” said Sheila.

Reducing Packaging at The Great House

One of the main areas that Sheila and Bruce focus on is the packaging on the products they use.

“It’s not always just the product itself,” explained Sheila, “but what the product is contained in.

“For example, refilling glass bottles with water from a large holding tank because glass is recyclable.

“So in terms of our shower gel and hand gel, we look for bottles that are made from either glass or recycled plastic. But as well as being made from recycled materials, it’s also important that the packaging is still 100% recyclable at the end of its life cycle.”

When choosing to use packaging that is recyclable or eco-friendly, it’s important to do your research.

“Packaging is one of the reasons why we don’t put biscuits in the rooms,” said Sheila. “I’ve been through every major manufacturer of individually wrapped biscuits and not one of them does recyclable packaging!

“They don’t do it, so I don’t supply it and I don’t have time to make my own shortbread because we’re just a husband and wife team.”

She added: “It’s the same with cleaning products. It’s difficult because you have to assess the quality of the product itself as well as the packaging.”

Whilst researching cleaning products, Sheila and Bruce have often had to email the companies to get the information they want because it’s not on the websites.

After searching high and low for the right cleaning products to compliment their values, Sheila and Bruce recently started using Delphis Eco products.

Delphis Eco uses recycled/ recyclable packaging and their products don’t contain harmful chemicals.

Sheila also explained that they use washing powder instead of liquids for laundry.

“That way, we aren’t using harmful micro-plastics and the washing powder comes in a cardboard box which is easily recycled.”

Plastic Free Champions – What are they?

Plastic Free Champions’ is an initiative organised by Surfers Against Sewage, a grassroots movement that has grown into one of the UK’s most active environmental charities.

The SAS Plastic Free Communities movement has seen various sized businesses rising to the challenge of removing avoidable single-use plastics.

This initiative focuses on things like plastic bottles, disposable coffee cups, food packaging, straws, balloons and bathroom plastics.

Independent businesses such as The Great House B&B are driving the change that’s needed to stem the plastic tide at the source.

Almost seven hundred businesses have now achieved the Plastic Free Champion award, with hundreds more working towards it.

Sourcing Locally for your BnB…

Interestingly, one element that Sheila and Bruce compromise on, is the packaging of their tea and coffee.

“We have a local supplier just seven miles away and none of their packaging is recyclable, however we counter that against the ‘food miles’,” explained Sheila.

Food miles are a unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport products from the producer to the consumer.

For example, products produced in Scotland but used in Exmoor would result in a greater number of food miles than products produced in Exmoor and used in Exmoor. The greater the number of ‘food miles’, the greater the harm to the environment as the products are transported over longer distances.

“So having non-recyclable packaging is a fair compromise when you produce much smaller amounts of CO2 emissions with regards to the food miles because they are very close to us,” said Sheila, “it’s a bit of a balancing act, that one is.”

Sheila and Bruce are currently researching tea and coffee suppliers within Exmoor that do use recyclable packaging as their quest to source locally and help the environment continues.

“Literally everything on our breakfast menu, apart from the baked beans that come in a can, is sourced within Exmoor.

“There’s a farm in the village that supplies eggs, and other local farms that supply sausages and bacon. The mushrooms and tomatoes are from Exmoor-based companies too.”

For businesses who wish to reduce their impact upon the environment by reducing their food miles, it’s important that you do your research and speak to the local suppliers that are available.

“Talk to your suppliers,” said Sheila, “and put pressure on them to supply what you want.

“For example, we approached the company that do our coffee beans and said, ‘Can you supply us with beans and if we bring our own containers, can we put them straight in there?’ and they said no because of health and safety issues. And yet the farm we use, dealing with raw meat, said yes.

“So now they will lose us as customers because we are going to go somewhere else and it might force them to rethink.”

She added: “It’s putting pressure on those local suppliers to provide services like this to help the environment.

“Even small things like changing the milk bottles from plastic to glass.”

It’s a lot easier these days to find eco-friendly solutions for small, everyday products and tasks and Sheila strongly encourages hospitality businesses to apply pressure to their local suppliers.

Green Tourism – What is it?

These days, green tourism is all about travelling responsibly and making conscious choices that benefit or reduce your impact on the environment.

As a business owner, green tourism for you may mean implementing your own Environmental Policy.

For example, The Great House B&B have outlined their policy on their website, explaining their commitments to sourcing locally, recycling, reducing their use of plastics and other environmentally friendly practices.

Green Tourism is all about being environmentally responsible, something that potential guests are looking for more and more when scouting for places to stay.

Despite all your efforts as a business owner to be more environmentally friendly, reducing your carbon footprint and improving your eco credentials also lies, partly, in the hands of your guests.

So how can you encourage them to be more environmentally responsible during their stay?

“This is interesting, because I think a lot of people pick us because of our environmentally friendly ethos,” said Sheila.

“But having said that, we had someone not long ago who gave us a low review. Apparently for the price they paid, they wanted more ‘luxury’ which to them, meant shower caps, tissues and biscuits; all the things we don’t do because of our policy.

“A 50p shower cap was their idea of luxury, yet we have silver cutlery in the dining room, bone china, hand painted murals… I think it’s just a certain type of person that get’s what we’re doing.”

Sheila and Bruce direct their guests to the Environmental Policy page on their website which states not only what they try to do at The Great House B&B to reduce their environmental impact, but also what the guests can do to help.

“All our practices are largely well received,” said Sheila, “maybe they don’t think about it as much as we do, but they are glad that we have thought about it and that we are taking these actions.”

Perhaps in a unique and surprising twist, guests aren’t expected to separate their waste into different bins. Instead, Sheila and Bruce go through all the bins to ensure everything is separated correctly.

“We’ve got recyclable bags in the bins that we reuse,” said Sheila, “we don’t just throw them out everyday as you would with standard bin bags. You can reuse them if they are dry.

The guests need not to worry about what’s in the bin and they can put everything in a single bin.  Sheila and Bruce then go through the bins and literally pick out everything that we can recycle.”

She added: “I think a lot of people don’t always know what can be recycled. Like olive pots – I think most people won’t know they are recyclable, but they are because we go down to our local recycling centre and do it.

“We literally go through everything and recycle everything that we possibly can.”

If you don’t know what the next step is in your eco-friendly journey as a business, write a list of all the possible changes you could make and start small.

“Just changing one thing at a time is a great place to start and an easy thing to do,” said Sheila.

Taking it one step at a time will make it more manageable; you don’t need to overwhelm yourself by changing everything at once.

Top Tips – Improving eco-friendly practices in your property

  1. Focus on one small change at a time.
  2. Low energy light bulbs are an easy swap. Phase them in as the old ones blow out.
  3. Use glasses in bathrooms instead of plastic, disposable cups.
  4. Build relationships with local suppliers. They appreciate your business more than big chains and are more open to suggestions and ideas.
  5. Bulk buy biodegradable carrier bags online.
  6. If you don’t have time to bake your own biscuits and can’t find individually wrapped biscuits in recyclable packaging, bulk-buy good quality oat cookies and decant them into glass jars.
  7. Ditch laundry liquid that comes in plastic bottles and opt for powder in cardboard boxes.
  8. Lobby local shops to install a milk refill station in partnership with local dairy farms. You can reuse your glass bottles and will no longer need plastic cartons.
  9. Individual loo rolls wrapped in paper look extravagant but the company ‘Who Gives A Crap” only use recycled paper and 50% of their profits go towards building toilets in developing countries.
  10. Why not try keeping your own hens? You’ll get fresh eggs to use in the kitchen and guests will love them!

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