Africa calls for a global plastics treaty. Will the world listen?
the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), considers pollution as one of the three threats our planet is facing, along with the climate crisis and the disappearance of nature. Among all sources of pollution and waste, plastic ranks first.
In my country, Senegal, artisanal fishermen and women processors do not need UN reports to know that this crisis is real. Beaches and waters that were pristine not so long ago are now infested with plastic bags, food packaging, medical equipment, water bottles and caps, and waste from cargo ships.
Senegal is not unique in this: every urbanized corner of Africa has become plasticized in just a few decades. Plastic pollution is disproportionately hit marginalized groups and it also disproportionately hits low-income countries.
This assault on our ocean, our source of life and livelihood, is directly linked to the degradation of the marine ecosystem by climate change and acidification. About 99% of the world’s plastic is derived from dirty, non-renewable fossil fuels. By 2050, the plastics industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption and plastic pollution could represent 13% of the total global carbon budget.
The durability and low cost of plastic make it attractive to industries, but this quality also makes it detrimental to our health. Plastic never really goes away. It becomes smaller, with the particles being swallowed by fish or farm animals and eventually consumed by humans in their food and tap water.
The ocean provides the primary source of protein for over a billion people around the world, and an ocean filled with plastic also means human bodies filled with plastic. In Senegal, fish covers around 70% of the population’s animal protein needs. Swallowing plastic can increase the risk of cancer and causing hormonal problems , both for seafood and for those who eat it.
Fishing is the second largest sector of the economy and the main source of foreign exchange. Plastic waste takes a heavy toll on an ecosystem already burdened by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, overfishing, fraud, the fishmeal industry, and more.
Plastic sometimes flows into the ocean with currents. In other cases, it is deliberately imported to Africa . In a recent example, the German maritime giant Hapag-Lloyd was caught in the act of fraud by Senegalese customs after fraudulently attempting to bring 25 containers of plastic waste into the country.
It is high time to end it waste colonialism .
It should be replaced by mutual respect for human dignity and an unwavering commitment to sustainable development and the efforts of countries like Senegal to tackle plastic pollution.
In 2020, an important decision was taken by the Senegalese government to ban water bags and plastic cups. This updated legislation followed the 2015 plastic bag ban and showed no real commitment by local authorities to its effective enforcement and enforcement.
However, it triggered the decision of the environmental protection ministers of the 15 member countries of the regional body ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to ban plastic packaging in the region. by 2025.
The regional stance on the ban on plastic packaging, which must be applauded as the only way to get rid of plastics in our environment, poses a real threat to some large industries, which opt for false solutions to prevent good policies. False solutions do not promote the transition from a single-use economy to an economy of reuse, nor the reduction of plastics produced.
False solutions are a distraction from the root causes of the plastic waste crisis. As such, they enable the continued production of single-use plastics – a preferred commodity of plastic-polluting companies. Some examples include the false promise of recycling our way out of this crisis, dumping its waste in other countries, or ascribing too much hope to immature technologies.
There is only one real solution to overcoming the plastic crisis: to end the mass production of this toxic chemical.
Governments must be focused and relentless: Passing bans on single-use plastics and strengthening their enforcement where they exist are essential so that we can hold big business to account. Other positive steps include investing in research and development of reusable alternatives such as bottles, stainless steel straws or tote bags, and encouraging their use.
Thanks to the growing movement of people demanding a plastic-free Africa and the growing number of champion countries across the continent, we are delighted to see positive progress towards a plastic-free Africa. With Ghana behind the call for a global plastics treaty, we can share Africa’s progress with the rest of the world.
And as Africa paves the way for a plastic-free future, we hope the rest of the world realizes that our continent rejects status as a global dumping ground. Instead of colonialist shortcuts, countries should invest in the development and adoption of waste disposal systems and reusable alternatives.
Awa Traoré is an ocean activist for Greenpeace Africa, based in Dakar.