Plastic waste is escalating uncontrollably in Africa, surpassing growth rates in any other region, reveals recent analysis.
Presently, sub-Saharan Africa witnesses the open dumping or burning of plastic waste equivalent to covering a football pitch every minute, as reported by the charity Tearfund.
Should this trajectory persist unchecked, the region is estimated to accumulate 116 million tonnes of plastic waste annually by 2060, a sixfold increase from the 18 million tonnes generated in 2019.
The primary catalyst for the surge in plastic consumption in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of the population is under 30, is the escalating demand for vehicles and other products fueled by rising income and population growth.
Globally, plastic usage is anticipated to nearly triple by 2060.
The escalating demand for plastic in sub-Saharan Africa, where numerous countries lack the capacity to handle it, came to light ahead of an upcoming government meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, next week. The purpose of the meeting is to finalize a UN treaty addressing plastic pollution.
Rich Gower, a senior economist at Tearfund, remarked, “The signs of environmental breakdown are all around us, but this treaty has the potential to curb the plastics crisis and improve the lives of billions of people.”
“Much of the plastic being used in sub-Saharan Africa is plastic packaging and ends up being dumped and burned,” he added.
He urged negotiators in Nairobi to agree to significant reductions in plastic production and to put waste pickers, who collect 60% of all plastic that gets recycled globally, front and centre of the treaty.
Lack of global rules and regulations leaves residents in developing countries and waste pickers, who gather the waste, unfairly shouldering the burden of the environmental and health consequences of plastic pollution.
Dr. Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, a waste campaigner from Malawi attending the negotiations in Kenya, remarked, “While these negotiations continue, the health of people in Malawi and across Africa is being impacted by plastic pollution every day.”
“In Malawi, we see burning and dumping of plastic waste every day, harming people’s health . These negotiations have shown that change is coming, but it will not come easily. There are some who profit from this plastic crisis and want to keep ambition as low as possible.”
An open letter from 80 bishops and church leaders to representatives of the Africa Group and other participants in the Nairobi negotiations highlighted that the region is grappling with “mountains” of improperly handled plastic waste.
Merely a few miles from the UN conference site lies the Dandora landfill site, receiving 30 lorryloads of plastic waste daily. This site serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, flies, and vermin, heightening the risks of diseases such as malaria, cholera, diarrheal diseases, and others.
Ahead of the recent round of negotiations for the plastics treaty in May, John Chweya, leader of waste pickers in Kenya, advocated for justice, healthcare, fair income, and improved working conditions for collectors to be integral parts of the treaty. He played a crucial role in urging countries to acknowledge the world’s 20 million waste pickers.
Tearfund’s analysis, forming the basis of this information, relies on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s database and is featured in the Global Policies Outlook.