Did you know that the world produces over 380 million tons of plastic every year? Indeed, available data confirms this to be true. Just imagine, this staggeringly high figure is nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population.
It even gets worrisome knowing that only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, 12% has been burned, while the rest 79% has been dumped in the ocean, landfills, or the environment taking between 20 to 500 years to decompose.
Like many, you’re probably equal parts disgusted at the rate at which plastic pollution is growing and worried about the negative impact on the environment and on human lives. The truth is that you don’t have to be an environmentalist or climate activist to know the damage plastic pollution can do to marine life as well as other species that ingest plastic as food.
For others, it might be a matter of smart economics having considered the potential value of ‘waste’ just lying around and requiring even more resources to be disposed of properly. Whichever group you belong to, it is safe to agree that recycling is a right step to take in addressing plastic pollution.
You may wonder: What is plastic recycling? In the African context, why is plastic recycling important for the economy? Let’s explore the answers.
What is plastic recycling?
The concept of recycling revolves around 3Rs- reduce, reuse and recycle. It is a simple process of collecting materials that would have been thrown away, sorting them, and processing them into something new and useful.
Going by that definition, plastic recycling is what you do when you collect your plastic waste such as single-use plastic (SUP) bags, bottles, beverage and food containers, nylons, wrappers, plastic cutlery. Having gathered your waste, you sort them before you process them into new materials- although you might need the help of a recycling facility with the processing.
Why is plastic recycling important for Africa?
To answer this question, consider what Our World in Data- a global scientific online publication- reveals about Africa and plastic waste mismanagement. The report states that across many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, between 80-90 percent of plastic waste is not adequately disposed of, and therefore at risk of polluting rivers and oceans.
Needless to say, Africa is deep in the plastic waste crisis. To that end, there’s a need for sustainable management of waste plastics in Africa by all. Apart from slowing down pollution, note the following five reasons plastic recycling is vital for Africa.
To accelerate Africa’s transition to a circular economy, many entrepreneurs are looking inwards to see how they can address the growing problem of plastic pollution. African startups and companies are leveraging technology to connect citizens to waste removal/management services.
At recycling facilities, people are needed to collect, sort, and process recycled materials. A few jobs include sorters, tractor drivers, and managers to oversee the process. When more people recycle, it creates jobs for recyclers who are able to pay tax, thereby also contributing to the GDP.
Saves depleting landfill sites
If plastic waste is not properly managed and recycled, it is projected that many landfill sites in Africa will be full in a few years. On the other hand, plastic recycling will reduce reliance on landfills as the most convenient method of waste disposal.
Reduces carbon footprint
Plastic production requires more energy which in turn causes more emission of greenhouse gases that is obviously bad for the planet. Rather than produce more, manufacturing companies can make do with recycled plastics, saving more energy while reducing their carbon footprint.
Promotes sustainability as a way of life
Recycling is one of the hallmarks of sustainability in any economy and is even made crucial due to the impacts of climate change. To that end, plastic recycling should be part of our day-to-day activities.
So, the next time you go shopping, you could carry your own water bottle, choose to buy products without packaging, use your own reusable shopping bags rather than stuff your home with more bags than you need. That way, you are taking responsibility for your own immediate environment and helping to reduce pollution in the process.