Social Navigation

Ugandan recycles litter on lakes and makes innovative tourist boat


LUZIRA, Uganda (AP) — Flowering plants magically rise from Lake Victoria on a wooden boat, giving it a leafy atmosphere that enchants many visitors.

The initial attraction becomes more attractive when tourists come to Uganda learn that the green comes from an innovative recycling project that uses thousands of dirt-covered plastic bottles to anchor the boat.

Former tour guide James Kateeba began building the boat in 2017 in response to tons of plastic waste he saw lying in the lake after heavy rainfall. He realized the ship could serve as an example of a sustainable business on the shores of Lake Victoria: a floating restaurant and bar that could be moored to float for fun.

Many who come to relax here in Luzira, a lakeside suburb of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, know nothing of the boat’s backstory. Kateeba insists it is primarily “a conservation effort,” one man’s effort to protect one of Africa’s great lakes from degradation.

Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest freshwater lake and spans three countries. Yet it is plagued by run-off waste and other pollution, sand mining and a drop in water levels, due in part to climate change.

Layers of plastic waste float near some beaches during the rainy season, a visible sign of the pollution that is a concern for fishing communities heavily dependent on the lake.

“The fact that as a country we had a problem of pollution… I decided to design something unusual,” Kateeba said as she surveyed the horizon of the lake, tinted with a green substance that indicates contaminants from a nearby brewery.

He started by asking fishermen from nearby landing places to collect plastic bottles for a small fee. Within six months he received more than 10 tons of bottles. Batches were tied in fishing nets and daubed with solid debris, creating the firm foundations on which the boat is moored and which are also fertile ground for climbing tropical plants.

Today, the boat, marketed as the Floating Island, can easily serve 100 visitors at a time, Kateeba said.

“This is morning glory,” he said proudly as he stroked a vibrantly blooming vine one recent afternoon as he prepared to moor the boat for the delight of his customers. Elsewhere on the boat, a group of TikToking teens were dancing. Upstairs, a carpenter was building a new wooden sundeck.

Jaro Matusiewicz, a businessman from Greece who visited, said he had “never seen a place like this”, praising the boat’s “accommodating” atmosphere as he delved into fish and chips.

“This is a very good idea,” he said. “If he collects and uses the bottles, that’s fantastic! … You not only clean the environment, but also provide something unique, very unique.”

A similar project was launched in 2018 on the beaches of Kenya, where a small boat known as the Flipflopi was built entirely from recycled plastic that once littered the sandy shores and towns along the Indian Ocean.

In 2021, the Flipflopi set out on a trip on Lake Victoria “to raise awareness of the pollution plaguing the region’s most critical freshwater ecosystem. said the United Nations Environment Programme.

Kateeba said he hopes his boat is exemplary.

“I’m sure with a little bit of experience we gain with this, we should be able to encourage other people to design things,” he said. “Other methods, not necessarily this kind … to tackle plastic pollution on Lake Victoria.”


Follow AP’s coverage of climate and environmental issues:

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.