Say no to plastic! The African Development Bank shows the way in the fight against plastic pollution in Africa
While the fight against plastic waste is gaining more resonance in Africa, the use of plastic bags is still well-rooted in custom and practice, at the expense not only of the environment, but also of public health, without there being widespread awareness. That is why the African Development Bank is ringing the alarm bell on the occasion of World Environment Day, June 5, and World Oceans Day, June 8, with a full week of activities on the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution.”
Activities commenced on Monday, June 4 with an exhibition of handicrafts made from recycled plastic, presented in partnership with the Magic System Foundation.
On World Environment Day, June 5, a panel discussion on “Beating Plastic Pollution in Africa” was chaired by Anthony Nyong, the Bank’s Director for Climate Change and Green Growth, and attended by African Development Bank Senior Vice-President Charles Boamah, representatives of the Ivorian Ministry of the Environment and of UN Environment, and environmental experts.
Customs and consumption habits have to change. This is beyond dispute, given the alarming figures flagged up at the discussion (see box). Every year, 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide and nearly 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute. In addition, half of all the plastic that we use is single-use and rapidly becomes waste. Waste that pollutes our rivers and oceans, threatening marine life, blocking sanitation and drainage systems in our towns and invading pastures.
Becoming ever-more aware of and concerned by this issue, many African municipalities and countries have decided to ban plastic bags over the last ten years. These include Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Senegal, Kenya, Togo, Mauritania and Côte d’Ivoire, albeit with greater or lesser degrees of success.
“In Côte d’Ivoire, a ban on plastic bags has been in force since 2013,” said Omer Kamelan, technical advisor to the Ivorian Minister of the Environment. “But plastics are still in circulation, because you cannot change habits overnight.”
Kamelan added that it was also difficult to combat illegal production and the informal sector. But, on behalf of his Ministry, Kamelan made an assurance that, “We are not giving up. We plan to launch a huge outreach and awareness campaign, to create an environment policy, to launch a control and enforcement system and, above all, to harmonize bans at the community level, because some neighbouring countries are not adopting the same measures as we are.”
Plastic — reuse it or refuse it!
Control measures must target professionals in the sector and the general public, those who use plastic in their everyday lives, in equal measure. “We need a real awareness campaign and to integrate this issue into school curriculums,” said Angele Luh, Head of the UN Environment office in Côte d’Ivoire.
For his part, Nyong was in full agreement: “We need to educate young people and make them aware of the dangers of using plastic. At the Bank, we have made commitments to fight plastic pollution; we have set up waste-recycling facilities and installed bins and drinking fountains everywhere. Change begins at home.”
The Director of the Climate Change and Green Growth Department was keen to put this into action at the Bank’s Meeting attended by the Board of Directors on June 6 in Abidjan. After making his presentation on the extent of the damage caused by plastic in Africa and the oceans and offering each Board member a reusable drinking bottle in the Bank’s colours to encourage them to avoid using single-use bottles, Nyong invited them to sign the digital whiteboard brought for the occasion as evidence of their commitment to this struggle. Many representatives of Member Countries of the Bank applauded this initiative.
It is single-use plastic that causes the most damage. If recycled, plastic can be put to many uses. The recovery of waste plastic is itself a promising business sector nowadays. “We are working with the private sector to make it understand that waste can be turned into profit,” said Nyong. “People need to understand this opportunity.”
Angele Luh went further, calling for the creation of conditions to enable the development of the sector. “A framework needs to be put in place so that businesses that go into plastics recovery or recycling don’t think that it will be a loss-maker.”
Leading by example: Volunteers from the Bank take part in Operation Beach Clean
The high point of this week dedicated to the environment, and echoing World Oceans Day on June 8, is a major operation to clean the beach at Grand Bassam, some 40 kilometres east of Abidjan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grand Bassam is also famous for its beaches which, sadly, are littered with waste.
Keen to set an example, the African Development Bank has organized a big beach clean-up day on Saturday, June 9, enlisting staff as volunteers. The initiative has the support of the Municipality of Grand Bassam, the Ivorian Ministry of the Environment, the Magic System Foundation and the Embassy of India — the country where the United Nations launched the international campaign against plastic pollution this year.
Read the blog post by Osric Tening Forton, expert in environmental risk and compliance management: From the scourge of plastic waste pollution in Africa to value addition and improved livelihoods
- Watch the video produced by the Magic System Foundation for World Environment Day at the African Development Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan