Africa’s world-leading example on single-use plastics

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AFRICAN countries are leading global efforts to eradicate single-use plastics, with 34 out of 54 states having passed laws proscribing disposable plastics, according to a Greenpeace report.

The report refers to the latest Plastic Waste Makers index, revealing that just 20 companies produce more than half of the world’s single-use plastic waste. None of them is in Africa.

Rich countries driving single-use plastics production

The Plastic Waste Makers Index identifies countries and entities driving climate crisis with virgin polymer production. These range from face masks to plastic bags and bottles which often end up in oceans or are burned or thrown into landfills.

The report, which covered 2019, reveals that predominantly American, European, Asian and Middle Eastern companies churn out 55 per cent of the world’s plastic waste. America’s ExxonMobil and Dow are the largest disposable plastic waste polluters, contributing 5.9 million and 5.6 million tons to the global garbage nightmare respectively in 2019.

China’s oil firm, Sinopec and chemicals company Indorama Ventures churned out 5.3 million and 4.6 million tons of polymer waste, with Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco clocking in fifth with 4.3 million tons in the period under review.

Africa’s big crackdown on single-use plastics

In Africa, however, most countries have launched an aggressive onslaught against single-use plastics. Data shared by Greenspace show that out of 54 states, 34 have either passed a law banning plastics and implemented it or have passed a law with the intention of implementation. “Of those, 16 have totally banned plastic bags or have done so partially without yet introducing regulations to enforce the bans. Compared to the rest of the world, the continent is seemingly doing a great job,” reads the report in part. In 2005, Eritrea became the first state to adopt an outright ban on plastic bags, with Benin following suit by outlawing the production and importation of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

States that are also phasing out plastics Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Nigeria, Mali, Tunisia, Malawi, Mauritania, the Gambia and Mauritius. Others are DRC Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Seychelles, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, Gabon, Ethiopia, Cameron, Djibouti, Morocco, Niger, Togo, Zimbabwe, Cabo Verde, Burundi and Guinea Bissau.

Disposal still problematic

There is a caveat, however: most African countries have not put in place efficient waste disposal and management systems despite commendable efforts to ban plastics. Nevertheless, according to a UNEP Africa Waste Management Outlook, African states contribute the least to the global plastic waste crisis with the bulk of the waste being organic.

As of 2019, Africa generated 180 million tons of municipal waste at the rate of 0.5 per cent per capita daily, according to Science Direct, against a population of just over 1 billion. UNEP data shows 57 percent was organic waste, 13 per cent plastic, 9 per cent paper, while metal and glass made up 4 percent each.

This is in sharp contrast to countries such as Australia where an average Australian generates 59 kg of plastic waste each year, according to the Plastic Waste Markers Index.

Plastic waste per capita is still far larger in the developed world

In 2019, according to the index, the United States plastic waste per capita was 53 kg, South Korea (44 kg), United Kingdom (44 kg), Japan (37 kg), France (36 kg), Saudi Arabia (35 kg), Spain (34 kg), Canada (34 kg) and Italy (23 kg). In Germany, on average, one person generated 25 kg, while in China and India they produced 18 kg and 4kg respectively.

However, data published by Science Advances in 2020 and reported by Forbes, recorded far higher figures. That data found that residents of the U.S. and the U.K. produce more plastic waste per person, the former generating an average of 105 kg of plastic per year and the latter generating almost 99 kg.

That report further stated that of the 300 million tons of plastic trash produced annually, at least 8.8 million tons end up in the ocean.

In Africa as a whole, the amount of garbage dumped was 70 percent, with plastic waste generated annually standing at just over 17 million tons, according to Science Direct.

A warning for the future

The growth in plastic waste cannot continue, many of the research papers warn. “An environmental catastrophe beckons: much of the resulting single-use plastic waste will end up as pollution in developing countries with poor waste management systems,” the Plastic Waste Markers Index said in part. “The projected rate of growth in the supply of these virgin polymers will likely keep new, circular models of production and reuse ‘out of the money’ without regulatory stimulus.”

According to the UK’s Guardian, in the next five years, the global capacity to produce virgin polymers for single-use plastics could grow by more than 30 per cent. By 2050, at current projections, plastic is expected to account for 5 to 10 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

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