Earth Day 2018: The Last Straw for Plastic Pollution

Josh Wright

22 Apr 2018

This April 22nd, do your part to #endplasticpollution

For Earth Day 2018, we’ve chosen to highlight the fantastic work being done by Great Plains Conservation (GPC), an organisation dedicated to bringing sustainable conservation tourism to Africa. In their own words, their mission since being founded in 2006 has been “to find the right formula of conservation, communities and commerce that would make a lasting, sustainable difference to the world’s iconic wildlife and wildernesses”.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “End Plastic Pollution”, and GPC have long strived to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced by their camps. For over a decade, each camp has provided its guests with reusable water canisters made from aluminium that eliminate the need for plastic bottles. Besides not being biodegradable, plastic bottles can also pose potential health risks. It is possible for the industrial chemical BPA, used in the production of certain plastics, to seep into beverages when a bottle containing the chemical is reused. Reuse can also lead to worrying amounts of bacteria growth – in a study conducted by Treadmill Reviews, a plastic water bottle used by an athlete for one week was found to accrue more bacteria than an average toilet seat. Not so for the canisters used by GPC, which are filled with filtered and UV-purified borehole water, then washed and sterilised ready for the next guest.

Along with water bottles, drinking straws are another plastic item that have drawn particular ire from the environmentally conscious in recent years, and rightly so. Although these small, lightweight items do not constitute a large percentage of the eight million tonnes of plastic waste that end up in the world’s oceans each year, their size and shape mean they can easily endanger marine wildlife. Animals can swallow straws and become entangled in them – considerable threats enough – but a video that went viral in 2015 showed the world another danger that these seemingly innocuous pieces of plastic can pose to the creatures that we share our planet with. Over the course of eight harrowing minutes, marine biologists in Costa Rica struggle to remove a straw that had somehow become lodged in a live sea turtle’s nostril – a video not for the faint of heart, but one that successfully brought the issue of plastic pollution into the public eye.

Around 8.5 billion single-use straws are thrown away each year; they are among the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups along Britain’s coasts. Bars and restaurants across the UK have already made the step to reduce straw usage or ban them outright, with All Bar One and Wetherspoon’s implementing biodegradable straws as an alternative to plastic. McDonald’s, Waitrose and Pizza Express are just some of the other chains committing to follow the same route in 2018. And on April 19th, the UK government announced that a complete ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds could come into effect as soon as next year.

But in the wilds of Africa, GPC have chosen a novel method of confronting the straw issue, in a way that both reduces plastic usage and benefits a local community living in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the vast wetland region that serves as the setting for GPC’s camps in the country. Northwest of the town of Maun, Adrian and Sophie Dandridge of Tshilli Farm run a zero plastic waste initiative in cooperation with the women of the Tsutsubega community, who have found employment crafting sustainable drinking straws from letaka reeds, a plant indigenous to the region. The process of turning plant to straw involves harvesting and stripping the reeds, then cutting them to length, cleaning out the insides and finally polishing them to a smooth finish with sandpaper. Each straw takes several minutes to make – GPC’s Sales and Marketing Director Hilton Walker describes the process as “labour-intensive” – but the benefit for both Tsutsubega’s women and the environment makes it more than worth it. Purchasing the products of this brilliant initiative is just one way that GPC demonstrate their commitment to a sustainable future for Africa's wild places.

The Okavango Delta offers a wealth of riches for all those whose African safari experiences have already taken them through rainforest and over savannah. Selected as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, the Okavango’s more than 2 million hectares of swamp, river, lake and floodplain are a water-rich habitat populated by a wide variety of wildlife. Africa’s Big Five can all be found here, as well as herds of lechwe antelope, zebra, giraffe, impala and wildebeest, to name but a few species. One of the highest densities of wild dog in all of Africa make their home in the Okavango, as well as over 400 species of bird – including African fish eagles and sacred ibis – while hippos wallow in the deeper waters and crocodiles swim through channels in search of prey.

For the environmentally conscious, GPC camps are among the most eco-friendly accommodations in all of the Okavango Delta, and Natural World Safaris currently includes four of these in our Botswana itineraries. Duba Explorers Camp and Duba Plains Camp are both located in the private 77,000-acre Duba Plains Reserve, while Selinda Explorers Camp is located northeast in the larger Selinda Game Reserve. Zarafa Camp is found just to the south in the sane reserve, overlooking the Zibadianja Lagoon. Our Duba & Selinda Luxury Expedition Safari includes stays at two of these camps, over the course of a 7-day journey where you’ll be able to explore the Okavango Delta by land, air and water. Those travelling on this safari in 2018 can take advantage of free helicopter flights, while solo travellers can avoid the standard single supplement; just visit the itinerary page for more information.

BOOK YOUR BOTSWANA SAFARI

Contact our Destination Specialist to start planning your journey.

Contact Us

Add your comment

You are being redirected. Click here if this takes longer than a few seconds.