On 10 December 2013, 33-year-old Capetonian, Ray Chaplin became the first person to riverboard the entire 2,400km length of the Orange River, South Africa's longest river, from source to sea all in the name of raising awareness of South Africa's' water quality and the volume of litter along the river.
This is the 2nd longest river boarding expedition in the world to date and the longest on a production riverboard in Africa.
Plastics|SA Sustainability Council met at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town in February 2014. The main sponsors of the Plastics|SA and Nampak Rigid Plastics Orange River Project, Anton Hanekom of Plastics|SA and Johan de Smidt of Nampak Rigid Plastics congratulated Ray on his tremendous feat and spoke of their respective companies and how they got involved with and supported this record setting achievement.
Representing the various sectors of the plastics industry, Plastics|SA plays an active role in the growth and development of the South African plastics industry. They provide training and expertise to the industry, and look after the image of plastic in South Africa driving the industry's environmental initiatives. Nampak Rigid Plastics is one of the largest converters of plastic in South Africa.
Plastics|SA runs several campaigns, competitions and clean-ups every year to promote the responsible disposal, collection and recycling of plastic. In 2013 their theme was "Plastics: An Adventure...let's explore!!!" They were looking for a suitable adventure to align to the 2013 campaign when Ray's proposal arrived. Ray wanted to riverboard the length of the Orange River, alone, becoming the first man in South Africa to do so.
Being passionate about the environment and a techno geek with all the portable communications gadgets necessary to correspond while on expedition Ray proposed that he would post regular updates on social media of what he observed in the river as he progressed. Thus drawing attention to and awareness of pollution in the river and the need to reduce it.
Plastics|SA approached Nampak Rigid Plastics to co-sponsor the attempt and on Tuesday 9 April 2013, high in the mountains of Lesotho, Ray Chaplin began his riverboarding attempt and, unfortunately, encountered large volumes of litter, almost from the source of the river.
Ray also undertook to do school talks, community clean-ups and generate as much exposure in each town as he progressed. Ray presented to over 9500 learners along the river with over 5500 bags of litter being
collected through clean-ups, with many more follow-up clean-up days already being coordinated by schools and communities.
"Right from the start I wanted to use my knowledge and background to try and share how important the sustainability of life and the environment is, but especially with the younger generation. I want to let them know that a sustainable future is possible, and that they have a huge part to play in it. I want to try and educate actively, through experience. Kids are tired of classroom teaching, they want to see someone go out and do what they teach," says eco-adventurer Ray Chaplin.
Ray riverboarded the Orange River alone, with no back-up crew or support vehicles. He carried his own tent, kit and food with him, weighing around 35kg. When asked about the amount of days Ray spent in the water he replied that he was trying to not think about it.
Ray spent 57 days out of the water after one too many falls resulted in two broken ribs and severe spinal injury, making it too painful and risky for Ray to continue. "I got out the water on Tuesday 25 June, and got back in on Wednesday 21 August even though the doctor suggested six to nine months," explains Ray.
Ray progressed 18-20km on a normal day on his riverboard, which weighs 9.5kg. His longest day was 29km and the shortest day was 5km due to cold weather.
His average daily diet consisted of 100g oats for breakfast, 2 snack bars or 100g of peanuts & raisins during the day, 165g of pasta with 75g soya mince for dinner, and a powdered drink. "I weighed 100kg when I left Johannesburg to start, and weighed 84kg when I arrived home after finishing," says Ray.
Not only was it a physical effort, but a huge mental effort too. The longest stretch Ray went without talking to anyone was six days and his longest stretch without signal was eight days, a tough feat for a self confessed techno geek.
246 days after departing from the source Ray arrived in Alexander Bay on the Atlantic coast having not only successfully completed 2460km of riverboarding but also 21 school presentations, two community meetings, one recycling Indaba, one International Marine Debris Summit, two Expos and 11 Radio interviews to spread the word that Plastics are too good to throw away. Ray promoted the collection of all litter in South Africa's rivers and in particular plastic packaging such as HDPE bottles, PET bottles, HDPE Closures, Crates and Drums that can be recycled.
"As South Africa's longest river, it almost traverses the entire width of our country, the state of the Orange River represents all the waterways in South Africa. What goes down our gutters lands in our streams, rivers, dams and ultimately oceans. So we should be more careful what we do with our plastic," says Terry van der Walt of Nampak Rigid Plastics.
Recycled plastic is a more cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative to virgin plastic and with responsible recycling from all plastic consumers Nampak Rigid Plastics can increase their use of recycled plastic ensuring better use of resources, more job creation and a cleaner environment.
"There is actually a shortage of recycled plastic material in South Africa. The packaging industry cannot get enough. Plastic can be recycled and reused, " says Johan de Smidt of Nampak Rigid Plastics.
Over the past year Plastics|SA saw a growth of 5.4% in virgin material consumption and an increase of 10.9% in recycling tonnages. Employing over 60 000 people, the industry's combined turnover is some R50 billion per annum, contributing 1.6% to the national GDP. Consumption is approximately 1.642 million tons per annum -
1.370 million tons of which is virgin material and 272 691 tons recycled material.
'We, who work in the plastics industry, are therefore acutely aware of both the benefits of plastics – we simply couldn't live as we do without them, and they are found in almost every sector and in almost everything we own, including our clothes. But we are also very aware of the damage that plastics can do and of their inherent value even as waste products. Many forms of plastics are recyclable, and have value in and of themselves, even as waste products. This is what the Plastics|SA Sustainability Council and its members, such as PETCO and Tuffy, co-sponsors of the Orange River Project, are educating school children, communities and the public in general about,' says Douw Steyn of Plastics|SA.
"From measly diets, to waking up to the sound of lions, to cracking ribs and finding scorpions in your wetsuit, yours has been a dramatic adventure to follow. It's been a privilege to align our environmental goals and consumer education on recycling with your project," said Terry van der Walt, Cluster Marketing Manager for Nampak Rigid Plastics in his congratulatory letter to Ray.
Consumers who purchase products in plastic packaging decide how to dispose of it later, and through these efforts the champions of recycling are hoping that consumers will think twice about throwing away those plastic bottles as not only will it preserve South Africa's beautiful waterways but it will provide much needed recyclable plastic to the packaging industry.
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