Yesterday afternoon, we were watching a herd of elephants cross the road. Big elephants, little elephants, playful elephants, serious elephants; all kinds of elephants. And there were a lot of them. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of waiting at an elephant ‘road block’ knows the joy these giants send hurtling through your heart. But one of these elephants wasn’t just going to cross the road. She was going to prove a point and stir something in me that’s been simmering for a while now.
Somewhere around the ‘third wave’ of elephants crossing the road, a young mother emerged from the guarri bushes to our right carrying a plastic bottle in her trunk. Ceremoniously, she dropped it right in the middle of the tar road, watching it as it bounced about and settled to a stop before she carried on. It’s like she was saying, ‘this crap is yours — have it back.’
She was right. Good girl.
For a few weeks now, I’ve wanted to write about one of my big safari hates – the dreaded single use plastic bottle. Ugh.
It’s still the standard at safari lodges across the country to issue each and every guest with a crisp, unopened 500ml plastic bottle of water at the start of each game drive, in addition to the backup bottles we carry in hot boxes and cooler boxes. Average that out at two bottles allocated per guest, per game drive. If I have roughly six guests on each drive, that’s twelve bottles of water per drive, twenty-four a day and a hundred and sixty-eight every week. And that’s just me! I’m one guide in a team of many. One lodge among hundreds of others doing the same thing. How many bottles is that? A lot. And that’s a problem. A huge, blue, plastic problem.
I came across a blog article posted by the excellent team at Jenman Safari’s earlier this week. It’s brilliant and can be found here at Jenman Safaris. Some of what I’m going to share here is taken from there, because they’ve beaten me to some of the points I wanted to make. Great minds think alike…
So take these following considerations to heart before you accept a plastic bottle on safari:
Africa’s recycling programs… They’re not what you’re used to in Europe and the Americas. They come with limitations and remember that plastic is non-biodegradable and isn’t just going to disappear.
Plastic is forever… Kind of. Mostly. It breaks down into little pieces that damage the soil and gets eaten by animals. It might even ensnare them. It’s a horrible way to die, with plastic wrapped around your neck or clogging up your stomach… In short, plastic is going to last for hundreds of years.
Most of the water is wasted anyway…. My guests usually just take a sip or two of their water, before discarding the bottle. Most of the bottles I remove from my car after game drives are almost full, but with the seal broken. It’s really hard to take when we’re going through such a horrible drought. I can’t bear to let the water waste, and often use the leftovers to clean my car or water my plants.
Isn’t a safari FOR the environment… And yet we’re happy to drink from silly water bottles? I don’t think so.
Honestly, just say NO. These bottles really suck.
Now what can you do?
Carry a reusable bottle… Nearly every lodge will be more than happy to keep your personal water bottle topped up with lovely, fresh, clean drinking water.
Put a little pressure on your safari lodge… Ask them about their recycling program and what they really do with all the plastic bottles they’re using. Ask them for big containers of drinkable water that you can fill your own bottles with. Ask them if they sell snazzy reusable water bottles. Ask, ask, ask. If enough people do, maybe they’ll get the picture. Don’t be afraid to mention these single-use bottles in feedback forms. Feedback forms are gold. Lodges take notice of them.
What am I going to do as a safari guide?
Commit… I’ve made a cool ‘Earth Day’ commitment here at WWF South Africa to stop using these bottles. The only bottles I’ll make use of are the waste bottles I find in my game viewer. You can do it here: WWF South Africa: Earth Hour
Set an example… In my pre-game drive brief, I’m going to encourage my guests to use reusable bottles if they can, rather than taking a single use bottle.
Re-use… This is what my bathroom floor looks like. I can’t bear to throw out the bottles I find in my safari vehicle. So I fill them with tap water and store them for the day the water or electricity is turned off. No matter the circumstances, this girl can always wash her hair!
It CAN be done. I read a research paper recently, profiling a safari lodge in Amakhala Game Reserve that put a stop to plastic bottles a few years ago. Instead, they began issuing guests with reusable bottles on arrival and encouraging them to fill up at a cool fountain whenever they needed to. What happened? Well, guests love their fun, branded lodge bottles that they take home with them. The lodge saved almost 60% of their water costs. Guests love that the lodge is doing something environmentally awesome and basically everyone has won.
Let’s see what we can do…