By Lenah Bosibori

As the world meets in Nairobi this week for the third session of the Inter-governmental Negotiations Committee (INC-3) on ending plastic pollution at the United Nations Headquarters in Gigiri, stakeholders in the circular economy have called on African governments to ban unnecessary plastic use like straws, plates, cups and plastics that do not have to exist necessarily.

Speaking during a workshop for journalists on the circular economy in Nairobi, Henrique Pacini, Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Conference Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that even though unnecessary plastics promote generate business downstream and recycling, more durable materials could provide much more and less waste.

“We could use more natural materials that employ people locally in countries and that have lower problems of accumulation from nature such as cultural residues, base materials, and seaweed-based materials that can play an important role in replacing plastics,” said Pacini.

The week-long circular economy training sponsored by Africa 21, Anjarwalla & Khanna (ALN) Kenya, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) African Circular Economy Network (ACEN), The FlipFlop Project brought together journalists. and communicators from seven countries representing Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Ghana.

Kenya introduced a ban on the importation, production, and use of plastic bags used for commercial and household purposes through the publication of Gazette Notice 2356 in March 2017. Penalties stipulated for violations include fines amounting to $40,000 and prison terms of up to four years for the importation, production, and consumption.

Kenya has also banned plastic bottles, straws, and related products in all national parks, national reserves conservation areas, and any other designated wildlife areas.

Pacini adds that many people use unnecessary plastics like straws and plates which later become problematic and not easy to control or ban. “We can also promote sustainable substitutes or non-plastic materials and at the same time promote reusability which tends to be the best,” said Pacini.

“We should care for reuse and avoid unnecessary use of plastics because plastics will stay for millennia in nature and it will not go away if we don’t take action,” he adds.

Countries are currently negotiating for a set of rules that will hopefully become an international treaty against plastic pollution, they include some requirements for control, taxation, traceability of plastics, and outright bans of unnecessary or problematic single-use plastics not useful.

According to him, all countries have to agree on common rules on how to deal with plastic waste because the plastic problem is not a problem of a single country it is a problem of the whole trade community and the whole international community.

“Today there is USD 1.2 trillion dollars being traded in plastics, it is a lot of trade so if we don’t agree on what to do collectively, the control will not work, we should really reduce using plastics first and foremost, use less or ban all tracks of plastics that are unnecessary,” he adds.

Pacini also called on manufacturers to pay attention to what they add to plastics adding that sometimes they add dangerous things like fire retardants, Ultra Violet protectors at the cost of organic pollutants that damage people’s health. “Dealing away with plastics requires a series of small actions that can collectively reform our global material system,” adds Pacini.

According to UNCTAD plastic constitutes an estimated 10–12% of solid waste, amounting to 966,000 tonnes/year. In 2019, Plastic beverage bottles accounted for the largest share (13.26%) of all items collected from beaches, followed by plastic bottle caps (10.5%). Other items collected in large shares included food wrappers, plastic lids and plastic takeaway containers, and plastic grocery bags   United Nations Conference on trade and Development. 

On his part, Piotr Barczak member of Africa Circular Economy Network (AZEN) said that developing countries face challenges in balancing production and consumption due to differences in per capita footprint and quality of life.

“African countries have much lower footprint per capita and that is not changing over the years, developing countries need to increase comfort and quality of life so that it’s linked to increased material consumption,” said Barczak.

Barczak reiterates that lack of alignment between politics, policies, and strategies is hindering efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and plastic pollution, despite increased awareness and reporting.

Africa’s policies are inadequate to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 targets, with a rebound effect hindering progress, goal 12 focuses on Sustainable Consumption and Production is the worst performing according to Barczak.

“SDG 12 is one of the worst performing, we are not on track to meet SDG goals in 2030, we are going in the wrong direction, the levels of consumption of materials and the efficient use of materials are increasing,” added Barczak.

According to Barczak, a lack of alignment between politics, policies, and strategies is hindering efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and plastic pollution despite increased awareness and reporting.

Barczak emphasizes the importance of reducing waste at home by using reusable containers and repurposing items instead of throwing them away.

“Look at what kinds of waste you generate at the household level and try to buy reusable bottles and containers, also try to repurpose your waste,” added Barczak.


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