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Plastic waste problem ‘spiralling out of control’ in Africa, says Tearfund

10 November 2023


The Dandora landfill site in Nairobi earlier this year

The Dandora landfill site in Nairobi earlier this year

EVERY minute, enough plastic waste to cover a football pitch is dumped or burnt in sub-Saharan Africa, new analysis by the charity Tearfund has found.

New figures were released before the third round of negotiations, in Nairobi next week, on a UN plastic treaty. Tearfund has been campaigning on plastic pollution through its “This is a Rubbish Campaign”.

Church leaders from different countries in Africa have sent an open letter to world leaders, through the charity, calling for any treaty to protect the most vulnerable, whose health is at risk from pollution from dumped and burned waste.

Their letter says: “Plastic use in Africa is spiralling out of control. In fact, it is growing faster in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other part of the world. If the current trend continues, the region will produce almost six times more plastic waste in 2060 than it did in 2019, and many countries do not have the capacity to manage it. Plastic waste is three times more likely to be mismanaged in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world.”

The plastic is not exported into Africa, but comes from packaging on items sold on the continent by companies that know that it is likely to be dumped or burned, Tearfund says. Rising incomes in some parts of Africa have led to an increased demand for plastics.

Overall, plastic use worldwide is forecast to almost treble by 2060.

The letter has been signed by the Archbishop of Kenya, Dr Jackson Ole Sapit, and other Anglican archbishops and bishops from Angola, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the Seychelles, and elsewhere.

The venue for the negotiations is a few miles from the Dandora dump, where 30 truckloads of plastic waste are offloaded each day. Dumped waste is creating a breeding ground for malaria and other insect-borne diseases, and burned waste releases pollutants that increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. Thousands of waste-pickers hunt through the rubbish to find items for reuse or sale.

The Revd Dennis Nthenge, Dr Sapit’s chaplain and a Tearfund activist, will attend the negotiations. He said: “It is crucial this treaty delivers real change for communities across Africa, and especially for those living in poverty who are most impacted by the plastic pollution crisis.”

Up to one million people are estimated to die each year in low- and middle-income countries from diseases linked to dumped or burned waste. Mismanaged waste that blocks drains and waterways has caused flooding.

Tearfund says that the treaty is the most important international environmental agreement since the Paris Agreement, and could be the first legally binding global agreement on plastic pollution. If negotiations are successful, the treaty could come into force in 2025.

Rich Gower, a senior economist at Tearfund, said: “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. Negotiators should feel the weight of the world’s hopes on their shoulders as they meet in Nairobi. They need to agree to big reductions in the production of plastics, ensure that all the rest is collected and recycled, and deliver justice for waste-pickers.”

Tearfund is calling for negotiators to agree significant reductions in plastic production, and to put the rights and health of waste-pickers — who help to clear some 60 per cent of global plastic waste — at the heart of any treaty.

Tearfund’s analysis of the amount of waste dumped in sub-Saharan Africa is based on statistics from a database of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, published in Global Policies Outlook.

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