A research from the Ocean Conservancy shows that nearly 80 per cent of plastic waste in the ocean begins as litter on land, the vast majority of which travels to the sea by rivers. One study estimates that over 90 per cent of plastic in the ocean comes from 10 major rivers around the world; eight in Asia, and two in Africa. This poor waste management is not just an environmental disaster, it has major safety implications as well.
In Africa, we have a fantastic opportunity to make plastic a vital part of our sprouting circular economy. We have an enviable passion for development which is already transforming our societies, so why not harness this and create an international blueprint for how successful circular economies can thrive, with plastic waste management. If we consider the potential economic value that can be derived from plastics post-use, throwing it away may be equivalent to physically throwing Africa’s money away.
We can start by ensuring that no plastic should end up in the environment. If plastic retains value through its life-span, in future it will be too valuable to be lost to the environment. But we also believe we have a responsibility today to help to clean up plastic that has entered our land and marine environment.
We can also approach plastic waste management in a variety of ways; through innovation to enhance the recyclability of plastics, through awareness and education campaigns, and by ensuring there is an end market for recycled material.
However, if we don’t deal with plastic waste, then we are not looking at avenues for economic development and sustainable environment. As a continent, we should work to accelerate recovery of plastic and reap value from it and despite the bleak imagery of plastics in the environment, Africa has the potential to set a global example.