Giving new life to old bottles

Environmental activists Sean Williams and Lovemore Robson

A sperm whale made headlines last year after it died and was found with at least 100kg of waste comprising fishing next, rope, packing straps, bags and plastic cups, among others. The impact of pollution on the environment, marine life and climate change has amplified calls for recycling and the banning of single use plastic. A plastic straw ban came into effect last week in England.

According to Greenpeace, 34 out of the 54 African states have either passed a law banning plastics and implemented it, or have passed a law with the intention of implementation. Plastic is still very much in use in South Africa, and environmentalists are concerned.

One of them is Fourways resident, Sean Williams, who has started a clean-up crusade that is gaining traction every day. Williams is passionate about saving the environment and constantly posts pictures of his operations on the I Love Fourways page. He and his friend Lovemore Robson have pretty much become community celebrities whose claim to fame is picking litter.

After a hard day’s work, they would have filled several bags of rubbish, which they then carry off for disposal or recycling. His contribution to the community has not only endeared him to those that follow the Facebook page, but has also mobilised other people to join his cause. Some show up at designated areas to help pick the litter, while some donate funds or even plastic bags.   

The coronavirus pandemic has had an adverse impact on businesses in South Africa. After the lockdown imposed by government to arrest the spread of the disease, many companies were adversely affected and have been left with no option but to shut their doors for good. Others, like Williams’, are teetering on the brink of collapse. Williams has not made a secret of his financial troubles, and in one Facebook post proclaims, “My life at the moment is in serious turmoil, with my business after 20 years slowly slipping into liquidation …. I feel lonely and scared, but doing something good each day, to either a fellow human or this amazing planet, keeps me going for my family.” He could have chosen to curl on his couch and sob about his losses, but instead he still wakes up and does his bit for the planet and create awareness on social media. He also visits schools to teach young people about caring for the planet and recycling.

An eco-brick bench built with about 370kg of plastic

Through his social media following, he has received donations of over 1,000 eco-bricks, which are then used to build various everyday items such as bar counters and trash bins. A bench that Williams and his team built with eco bricks in Lonehill Park has been met with mixed reaction.

While some have celebrated his recycling efforts and even queued to take picture, others have lambasted the idea of having something made of plastic in the park, which they feel is tantamount to some kind of pollution. One person remarked, “Why on earth would one put such a monstrosity of plastic waste in our beautiful natural park now?  Another said, “I feel this will be an eyesore. Yes, all this plastic will now stay out of a landfill but it still exists beneath this bench, what’s the difference? You’re just hiding it.” If there’s anything Williams has in abundance, apart from the energy to fill up many refuse bags, it is the patience to engage all his critics in a civil manner. It kind of reminds one of the engagements the biblical Noah had to undertake as he persuaded people to get on the ark to escape a deadly flood, and some scoffed at what they thought was ridiculous thinking.

The finished eco-brick bench at Lonehill Park

Williams says he has travelled the world, observing endangered species such as polar bears and gorillas in their natural habitat. It was during his voluntary work in the Maldives and Costa Rica, at rehabilitation centres that helped turtles caught up in ghost ropes and plastics coming from fishing nets and pollution that his life changed forever. “A dream was born in me to see where and how I could help to make a difference in both wildlife conservation and in our human community,” he says. His passion saw him creating the SW Living Creatures Trust, which has so far adopted two rhinos, a number of cheetahs, a wild dog, an Egyptian Vulture, a gorilla, a polar bear, and a Cape vulture.     

Williams is also an avid cyclist, and his brand, Live Life Always, manufactures cycling and leisure shirts. Each design is dedicated to an endangered species, the planet, forests and oceans. He reiterates that his love for the planet is not for self-enrichment or accolades. “I do this for nothing other than to refill my glass, each and every day. I can’t believe I have become famous for picking up litter on the streets, and yes, it feels amazing, but most of all, it feels right in my heart.”

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