As a response to the increasing damage and threat of plastic pollution to the world and Africa, the Africa Union (AU) announced a high level working session on banning plastics in Africa. The meeting is part of the 32nd AU summit which opened in Ethiopia on Sunday.

According to the AU, the increase in pollution in Africa, especially in major cities are calls for concern, with an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic already deposited in the ocean. In a statement, the pan-African body warns that with the current statistics, our oceans will have more plastics than fish by 2050.

The meeting, themed “High level working session on Banning Plastics in Africa; towards a pollution-free Africa” will see heads of delegates from the 55-member continental organisation to discuss how to effectively control plastic pollution in Africa.

Plastic are useful materials, but they are also made from toxic compounds known to cause illness, and because of their durability, they are not biodegradable. The risk factors of plastics are not limited to the earth’s environment only. According to EcoWatch, the accumulation of plastics has led to increasing amounts of environmental pollution around the world including Africa. About 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface is believed to be emanating from plastics. Plastic pollution remains a threat to human life and wildlife.

On-the-go lifestyles require easily disposable products such as bottles of water or soda cans, cartons and other items we may not even realize. Accumulation of these products lead to plastic pollution. Every time these items are disposed or washed away, the toxic pollutants have the chance to enter the environment and cause harm. Overused plastics which don’t decompose easily are also other causes of environmental harm. When burned in the open, they pollute the air. The fishing industry also contributes to plastic pollution in the oceans. Fishing nets are usually made of plastic, releasing toxins during fishing which may be harmful to the fish.

Drafting a solution to plastic pollution on the continent.

Africa is already taking action to address plastic pollution. Thirteen African countries have banned the use of plastic bags and are promoting the use of alternatives such as biodegradable bags. However, many people still use plastic bags illegally hence the effectiveness of the bans and taxes are not visible on the ground in these African countries. According to environmentalists, the only realistic way to address the problem of plastic pollution is for companies and individuals around the world to agree to implement practices that reduce waste on every level.

The African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) at their 2017 meeting held in Libreville, Gabon, urging African Countries to reduce all forms of pollution including waste and chemicals in line with the Bamako Convention.

Globally, in the same vein, the United Nations Environment Assembly Declaration of December 2017 called for a Pollution-free Planet and adopted a resolution which invites relevant international and regional organizations and conventions to increase their action to prevent and reduce marine litter and microplastics and their harmful effects, and coordinate where appropriate to achieve this end.

The AU’s mandate to reduce plastic pollution

The AU aims to discuss how to achieve the control of plastic waste in Africa. In a statement, the organization acknowledged that controlling plastic pollution demands the participation of all conceivable stakeholders including governments and civil society organizations. It also entails development of alternatives to plastic that will also compensate for immediate economic losses association with companies and individuals involved in the plastic business. The objectives of the meeting include:

i. Advocacy and awareness on the impacts of plastics in Africa

ii. Share experience on strategies and measures being undertaken at national level to address the plight of plastics

iii. Agree on modalities and partnership for taking the process forward

Some of the causes of plastic pollution seem to clash with the solution, leaving a question mark on whether the problem can be controlled entirely. Recycling for example is a contributing factor to pollution, yet it is largely encouraged across countries and seen as a way to help reduce plastic pollution. Recycling does not really reduce plastic waste or exposure, plastics don’t break down easily. Hence, recycling plastic simply means it is still plastic just being used for a different purpose. Another conflicting factor is the fishing industry, fishing is a source of income for some people and a commercial revenue for some countries. It is difficult to tell how to control the hazards caused by the fishing net without affecting their economic activities negatively.

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