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Tackling plastic abuse in Africa for a sustainable future


Tackling plastic abuse in Africa for a sustainable future

Globally, plastic production exceeds 400 million tonnes annually, with approximately one-third specifically intended for single-use purposes. Less than 10 percent is recycled. 


An estimated 19-23 million tonnes end up in oceans, rivers, and lakes annually, causing risks to human health, threatening biodiversity, and destabilizing the climate.


In Africa, rapid urbanization has been predicted to drive economic growth, with over 65% of the continent’s population expected to reside in urban areas by 2060. By the end of the century, Africa will be home to five of the world’s ten largest megacities. The main challenge lies in ensuring that this growth is fast, fair, and sustainable.


As urban populations grow, the negative impacts of our throw-away culture and inadequate waste management systems become increasingly evident, threatening our environment, wildlife, and ecosystems. 


A major challenge with eliminating plastics properly comes from the fact that it is the most convenient material used, especially when it comes to packaging. About 46% of plastic waste comes from packaging, and It has now become an integral part of our daily lives that we can hardly do without. 


While plastic can be easily converted into products like bottles, trays, straws, and shopping bags, its negative impact on the environment and human health cannot be ignored. Microplastics, derived from plastic waste, have been detected in the food chain and pose a significant threat to marine life, leading to harm and even death.


The burning of plastic waste, a common practice in some regions of Africa, releases harmful pollutants into the air, including toxic gases and particulate matter contributing to respiratory problems and air pollution-related diseases.


Indiscriminate plastic disposal further affects soil porosity, hindering water regeneration cycles and reducing soil quality for agriculture. This has significant environmental and socio-economic consequences, disrupting ecosystems and leading to food insecurity.


Although, some African countries have initiated measures to address plastic pollution, particularly by making progress in reducing their plastic waste. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 30 African countries have banned single-use plastic bags.


However, the effectiveness of policies on plastic production, use and waste management needs to be improved as capacity and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of these solutions are still nascent or inexistent.  


To address this pressing issue, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has proposed a “Turning Off the Tap report, outlining three market shifts that are essential to transforming the plastics economy:( Reorient and diversify, Reuse, and Recycle,).


The systems change scenario suggests the application of an upstream (incentives to use recycled plastic), midstream (manufacturing of economically recyclable products), and downstream (investment in increased recycling capacity) approaches through an immediate international global action to support circular plastics economy that would be beneficial to both developing and developed countries to eradicate this problem.


This is where the concept of a circular plastics economy is applied to combat plastic pollution. The new approach aims to significantly reduce plastic pollution by 80% by the year 2040.


To make this vision a reality, collaboration between developed and developing countries is crucial. Raising awareness and fostering partnerships will be instrumental in the fight against plastic pollution. 


Individuals must rethink their plastic consumption habits, favoring reusable options and reducing reliance on single-use plastics. Manufacturers must take responsibility by reducing plastic usage, investing in eco-friendly packaging, and exploring sustainable alternatives. 


Governments can play a significant role by enhancing waste management systems, promoting the use of biodegradable packaging, encouraging recycling and upcycling, and adopting circular economy principles that contribute to a more sustainable and plastic-free environment while enacting laws that forbid the use of specific plastics, following the successful examples set by nations like Rwanda and Kenya.


We can address plastic pollution in Africa through joint efforts by preserving our environment and ensuring a healthier future.



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