Giving Plastic Bottles a Purpose in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve


Izzo Mwangi was appalled to find plastic bottles in the Maasai Mara National Reserve — so he constructed a tourist camp using them. The results were better than he imagined.

One of Kenya’s natural treasures and a magnet for tourism, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is home to nearly 90 species of mammals and more than 470 bird species. Some members of the Maasai community, Kenya’s most famous tribe, also live in the reserve. But despite its natural beauty and its protected status, the reserve faces a number of environmental challenges. Among them is a major problem with human trash, according to entrepreneur and activist Izzo Mwangi. 

Izzo Mwangi with glass and plastic bottles.
“We continue to look for new ways to reduce, reuse, recycle, and support the community,” Izzo says.

Izzo is Kenyan-born and the youngest in a family with seven children. While waiting for his turn to get into tertiary education, he took a job with a non-profit, an experience that set the foundation for him to start his own non-profit: Marafiki Community International (MCI). The organization supports a local school and teaches locals to find sustainable solutions to pollution and trash. A believer in the concept of social entrepreneurship, Izzo says: “That’s why I set up a tours company [Voluntours Adventures] and a camp [the Anyoraa Camp in the Maasai Mara] — to prove that tourism can help develop and support sustainable projects.”  

One day in 2018, Izzo was shocked to see lion cubs playing with a plastic bottle. “It is not necessarily an issue of tourists or guides polluting the park,” he notes. “The trash is thrown out in shanty towns outside the gates, and the wind transports the trash into the park. The Mara is our most precious tourism gem — travelers come from all corners of the world to see wildlife in action. It feels crazy that there is trash in the midst of that,” he says. 

Izzo began to wonder if there was a way to reuse some of the trash littering the Mara. It dawned on him that plastic bottles might have value if they were repurposed as a building material. He sat down, designed, and then constructed a tourist camp using plastic bottles. The results were better than he imagined. 

The word “Anyoraa” is Maasai for “believe” and refers to Izzo’s belief that mankind — including ordinary people — can find solutions to climate change and pollution. Today, travelers to the Anyorraa Camp stay in houses built from plastic bottles. Izzo has accumulated over 25,000 of these bottles from the reserve, paying Maasai women to pick up the bottles, fill them with sand, and seal them with a top. Some bottles are stuffed with collected plastic wrappers to make a lighter “eco-brick” for roofing. Most of the Maasai women use their income to pay their children’s school fees. 

Inside a completed Anyoraa Camp plastic house.

The Anyoraa cabins are comfortable and full of light, equipped with hot water and electricity. Travelers can walk around freely, hear the Maasai women by the river, and learn more about MCI’s projects. “We continue to look for new ways to reduce, reuse, recycle, and support the community,” Izzo says. “So far, we have youths cutting glass bottles picked up from the street and turning them into drinking glasses to sell. We are also considering introducing sustainable agriculture and clean water programs, as most of the rivers in the Mara are polluted.” 

Inside an Anyorra plastic house.
Inside a completed Anyoraa Camp cabin..

Izzo has plans for a shamba (Swahili for “farm”) at Anyoraa so that travelers to the camp can enjoy a farm-to-table dining experience. “The Maasai are learning how to till the land,” he says, “and there’s beehive fencing [beehives hung near fencing to deter animals] as another agricultural project. We want to create a beautiful experience of Maasai Mara for travelers, with good locally grown food that also supports the community and the environment.” Another proposed project involves planting over 200 trees in the compound.

Sustainable solutions remain challenging in this part of the world, in part because sustainable alternatives can be expensive. With regard to plastics, Izzo notes that there is still a need for a reduce-reuse-recycle system, with options for each stage, as well as a continuing need for clean-up initiatives. “We need to care more, love more, question our belief systems, and settle on our values. Everything we do through Marafiki, Voluntours, and Anyoraa is to support and empower. We don’t seek perfection but rather movement. And at times, that’s all you need …” he says. 

What Can You Do?

Learn more about Izzo through his Voluntours and Marafiki community initiatives. 

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Caroline Muiruri
Caroline Muiruri
Caroline Muiruri is a professional content writer, poet, digital marketer, and entrepreneur based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her articles have been published in several magazines, and blogs. She enjoys traveling and participating in climate change activism.
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