Home » African Nations Have the Power, Tools to Re-design a Plastic Pollution-Free Future
Featured Global News News Politics

African Nations Have the Power, Tools to Re-design a Plastic Pollution-Free Future

Across the world, cities, oceans and landscapes are clogged with plastic waste, creating risks for human health, threatening biodiversity and destabilizing the climate. This is why, on World Environment Day this year, the UN Environment Programme is asking everyone to do what they can to end plastic pollution.

The world produces around 430 million metric tonnes of plastic a year and rising. Recycling systems can’t cope with this volume; recycling rates are under 10 per cent. We can’t possibly hope to recycle our way out of this crisis. We need a complete redesign of how we use, produce, recycle and dispose of plastics – a redesign that starts with eliminating as much plastic, and associated harmful chemicals, as possible from products and packaging.

This redesign got underway last year at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, when nations agreed to begin negotiations on a legally binding deal to end plastic pollution. The second round of talks on this agreement just ended, setting the mandate for the zero-draft of the agreement to be negotiated at the UN Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi later this year.

Kenya, and the rest of the African continent, will have a crucial role to play in this deal – not least because this agreement was born in Kenya. Not least because it is in African nations, and other developing countries, that the injustice challenges of plastic pollution plays out. This is visible in the Dandoras of the continent, where informal waste workers risk their health to eke out a living.

The strong presence of the African Group of Negotiators in the negotiation process has signalled Africa’s commitment to ending plastic pollution. African nations can drive ambition in the agreement, which means focusing everyone’s minds on redesign. Redesigning products to use less plastic – particularly unnecessary and problematic plastics. Redesigning product packaging to use less plastic. Redesigning systems and products for reuse, refill and recyclability – so that, for example, recycled polymer becomes a more valuable commodity than raw polymer. Redesigning the broader system for justice – so that groups such as informal waste sector workers receive decent jobs and a clean environment.

Ambition means improving Africa’s low rates of waste collection. It means investing in recycling and waste management infrastructure to deal with the plastics that cannot be designed out or reused. Ambition means addressing the legacy of plastic pollution in our oceans that continues to land on the shores of African countries. Ambition must also mean solidarity, so that developing countries have the necessary financial resources.

African nations can also drive ambition by sharing their knowledge. Hundreds of millions of Africans already do many of the right things in their daily lives. People reuse and repair products – a lifestyle and culture that must be relearnt elsewhere, where “take-make-use-throw” consumerism has become dominant. Across Africa, we see creative initiatives: such as in Rwanda, where the government has supported local factories to move towards producing bamboo and paper-based materials after banning single-use plastic bags.

These are the kinds of initiatives that will allow African nations to pivot to a plastics-free future – pioneering innovative manufacturing, packaging and design solutions in the same way that Kenya pioneered mobile money. African governments can drive the required transformation, domestically and globally, by sharing such practices – and ensuring legislation promotes new business models rather than backsliding towards single-use plastic production. Enforcement is also important, and it is great to see Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority act against illegal single-use plastics.

This year’s World Environment Day is a moment for Kenya, Africa and the whole world to mobilize and commit to stronger action. Governments must deliver a strong deal to end plastic pollution. Industry and the private sector must innovate to move their business models away from plastics. Consumers can reduce demand by refusing plastic when possible. Community-driven action can put the pressure on by using their voices to create good noise.

Acting to end plastic pollution is a major opportunity. If we act with unity of purpose, we can virtually eliminate plastic pollution by 2040; reduce social, environmental and human health costs; create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, mainly in developing countries; and open new markets and business opportunities.

Everybody wins, provided we ensure a just transition for developing countries and groups such as workers in the informal waste sector. So, on World Environment Day, I call on everybody to join the global movement and beat plastic pollution, once and for all.

Source : Unep