The Sunday Mail
Online News Editor
One November Saturday in 1855, on the 17th to be exact, David Livingstone, lauded in his after-life as a missionary, liberator and explorer, had his first glance of the Mosi-a-Tunya, which he later christened the Victoria Falls, after the then reigning British queen.
Whilst it has been generally agreed that Livingstone did not “discover” the Falls, as the Tonga, Makololo, Lozi, Nambya and other tribes were resident in and around the area, he was the first European to document its existence.
Some 164 years later, and in the same pattern as seen by Livingstone, the majestic and mighty Victoria Falls, which has since been recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world, and a World Heritage site, roars down the Zambezi gorges, gallons of water rumbling and tumbling across a swathe of land that stretches up to almost two kilometres.
In peak season when the Zambezi River flows at its most furious, that is from March to May, roughly 625 million litres of water flow over the edge per minute, plunging to depths between 73 and 108 metres.
That mass of water on hitting the ground becomes a roar of thunder and then transforms into a cloud of showers, hence the locals called it Mosi-a-tunya (the smoke that thunders). This spectacle makes the Victoria Falls a must on any holiday-maker’s bucket-list.
According to a 2017 survey conducted by Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), one of the leading tourism players in the resort town, Victoria Falls was the third most visited falls globally that year with 500 000 visitors, after Niagara Falls (12 million) and Iguazu Falls (1,7 million).
With half-a-million annual visitors, it is inevitable that litter becomes a headache and concern for the resort town: how to handle it and how to dispose of it. The now resort town should, at any given time, have the same majestic splendour and green environment that Livingstone might have gazed from across back in 1855.
Andy Conn, the group operations manager for AAT, says the heightened interest in Zimbabwe as a tourist destination, coupled with Victoria Falls’ standing as a must-see when one visits Zimbabwe, saw the scourge of litter, especially plastic, bottle, paper and cans, become an everyday concern.
“In recent years, as much as we were happy with the rising arrival figures, we also noted that the scourge of litter was something that we had to tackle head-on, if Victoria Falls was to retain its status as a green destination,” he explained in a recent sit-down.
But with AAT’s principal concern being providing the ultimate holidaying experience, “the most viable option was to partner with Charlene Hewat, one of the world’s foremost conservationists”, in a recycling project that has changed the face of Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls Recycling was launched in 2018 by AAT, in partnership with Greenline Africa (an organisation run by Hewat), the Victoria Falls Municipality and Petreco Zim, with Hewat being the Victoria Falls Recycling co-ordinator. She was contracted by AAT to run the project, with funding coming from AAT.
The recycling project, which is still in its infancy but is supposed to scale widths and heights wider and deeper than the main water fall, has roped in youths and women from an assortment of social backgrounds to sort waste into recyclable plastic, bottles, paper and cans.
“We are using our imagination and we want this project, when it becomes fully operational and running, to be able to turn all the waste that Victoria Falls is disposing into something that is added value onto, so that there is no waste really to talk of in the resort,” said Hewat, world-famous for the bicycle ride from Glasgow, Scotland, through the rough and tough African continent to Victoria Falls in 1986. The ride was to raise awareness for rhino conservation.
Whilst the recycling project crushes cans into smaller and portable ones for export to South Africa, they have already started making an assortment of glass products for local consumption. The products range from candle holders, beer glasses to chandeliers from the bottles that are discarded by holiday-makers.
“Like I said, our imagination is going to be our limitation. We are looking at making handbags from recycled paper, roofing tiles from recycled cans, floor tiles from recycled glass. We cannot stop thinking and imagining the world of possibilities that this recycling project can offer to the resort,” said Hewat.
The idea to set up the recycling plant, Conn explained, came out of a realisation that AAT operations alone handled some 80 000 units of single-use plastic per year, especially water bottles.
“We reasoned that we were doing our environment a disservice and since we are very passionate about the environment from which we operate, we resolved to replace the single-use plastic water bottle with re-useable glass water bottles in all our operations.
“Looking into the future, we hope that soon we will have a purpose-built recycling plant that will take care of, not only our waste but that from the whole of Victoria Falls. This is a project that we are keen on and we hope that Victoria Falls will probably return to the serenity, tranquility and cleanliness that was seen by Livingstone all those years back,” said Conn.
The recycling project supervisor, Blessing Ndlovu, said they are working primarily with hotels as they are some of the biggest churners of waste. “We have asked hotels to separate at source, that is sort out their waste and place it in differently coloured bins, with each colour being for paper, plastic, bottles and cans. This makes it easy for us to handle the waste when it comes to the recycling unit,” she said.
On a monthly average, the unit handles 1 200kg of paper, which yields between 10 and 11 packed bales; recycles between 1 200 and 1 500kg of polyethylene terephthalate (commonly known as PET); handles about 100kg of plastic, of which they need 200kg to make a bale as well as go through about 50kg of high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
Besides engaging hotels, the project has roped in schools, civic workplaces and households. “We pay dumpsite guys who bring in recyclable, non-contaminated waste. We encourage those at household level, especially housewives, to also separate their waste at source. That way, we are trying to make Victoria Falls not only the cleanest destination in Zimbabwe but in the KAZA region and beyond,” said Ndlovu.
To achieve this goal, Hewat emphasised, Victoria Falls Recycling holds monthly networking meetings with key stakeholders from hotels, council and different Government departments on how to keep Victoria Falls clean and green.
Malvern Karidozo, a widlife biologist based in Victoria Falls, noted of the recycling efforts: “It is such a timely intervention, this recycling project. I am currently tracking elephants with satellite collars and have noted that fewer elephants are now raiding the dump site, even though there is an electric fence. The cases of them breaching the electric fence has gone down mainly because of this separation of waste at source, because less elephant-palatable waste is finding its way to the dump site.”
After taking in the splendour of the mighty Victoria Falls that November Saturday in 1855, Livingstone remarked of the “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
And the ongoing green campaign for the resort town seeks to match that lovely angelic sight.