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Kenya challenged to lead efforts to have global plastics treaty by 2024

By Mactilda Mbenywe - Jun 22nd 2022
Plastic debris is the most abundant type of litter. [iStockphoto]

Kenya grabbed headlines in 2017 when it banned single-use plastic bags. This was celebrated as one of the sternest in the world. The move was preceded by the country’s decision to sign the Clean Seas Initiative, making it one of the first African nations to commit to limiting plastic in its waterways.

Currently, the success rate of the ban is recorded at approximately 80 per cent in the fight against plastic pollution, according to National Environment Management Authority.

However, plastic pollution remains one of the biggest threats to environment. Even as some are recycled, a significant amount ends up in lakes and oceans, swept there via rivers or sewage drains, discarded on beaches or dumped from ships.

In February, the United Nations passed a resolution agreeing to start negotiations for the world’s first binding global treaty on plastic pollution, in what was hailed as a watershed moment for the planet and dubbed the “biggest green deal since Paris.”

At that moment nearly 200 nations at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi unanimously agreed to create an intergovernmental committee to negotiate and finalise a legally binding plastics treaty by 2024.

And now stakeholders are pushing Kenya to speed up efforts to adopt the resolutions. This amid concerns that the county lacks the infrastructure to manage biodegradable and nondegradable wastes.

Crisis continues

They have reiterated that the plastic waste crisis continues to destroy habitats, killing wildlife and contaminating the food chain. They want immediate radical action.

Last week the scientists pushed for an agenda for the country to lead the way in ending plastic pollution in Africa. Led by The Heinrich Böll Stiftung (hbs), they unveiled a campaign aimed at fostering dialogue to end plastic pollution in Kenya, and called on the government to put stringent measures to end plastic pollution.

Speaking during a dialogue on unpacking the resolution to end plastic pollution, which was adopted by UNEA, the hbs Nairobi Office Director Joachim Paul said plastic pollution cannot be ignored anymore.

“Plastic production and pollution require concerted efforts from everyone because the impact of this crisis is putting pressure on the planet, which is linked to the climate change and food crisis that we are currently experiencing,” noted Mr Joachim.

Woman collects plastic at a garbage dump. [iStockphoto]

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year, with half of that amount used to create single-use items such as shopping bags, cups and straws. 

At least 14 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year.

Plastic debris is now the most abundant type of litter in the ocean, accounting for 80 per cent of all marine debris discovered from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.

In Nairobi, for instance, it is estimated that 2,400 tonnes of solid waste are generated every day, 20 per cent of that being plastic form, mostly single-use plastic like straws, bottles and packaged consumer goods.

 Programme Coordinator, Sustainable Development at hbs, Mr Fredrick Njau urged policy makers not to allow the country to be used as a dumping ground for plastic waste by developed nations through trade agreements.

“At least 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced annually and only less than 10 per cent is recycled. Plastics take over 400 years to degrade, which is dangerous to the environment, humans and animals,” said Mr Njau.

At the same time, Amos Wemanya, the Power Shift Africa’s Senior Advisor on Just Energy Transition, says Kenya lacks infrastructure to manage biodegradable and nondegradable waste, and there is need to protect developing countries through global regulatory framework to ensure no plastic waste is dumped in the country.

Consider alternatives

According to Mr Wemanya, it is time companies that depend on plastic considered alternatives in readiness for a plastic treaty in 2024.

With only two years for the resolution to be tabled, Mr Wemanya said, Kenya has opportunity to demonstrate leadership by going a further step and ridding off the country single-use plastic.

Studies at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) indicate that abandoned fishing gear has been one of the biggest plastic polluters in Lake Victoria, for instance.

Rubbish left on the street. [iStockphoto]

The research shows that more than 46,000 nets are abandoned or dumped inside the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria.

According to the researchers, more than 200,000 nets are dumped in the entire lake annually, with fishing gear making up about 60 per cent of plastic pollution.

According to the scientists, the nets pile up on beaches, creating a navigational nightmare for boats or settle to the bottom, where they damage sensitive and crucial ecosystems.

Dr Chrisphine Nyamweya, the assistant director at KMFRI, explains: “The lost nets or part of them ensnare and trap marine animals for as long as they are intact, before they degrade”.

600 years

Monofilament nets take up to 600 years before they degrade, but can be disastrous for generations.

This is known as “ghost fishing”, which involves the swimming nets catching fish and some diminishing species. Others die even as the nets destroy breeding habitats for fish when the nets settle on sea beds.

Dr Nyamweya says “ghost fishing” is a problem that goes on unnoticed since fishermen do not come back and report that they have lost a gear or part of nets.

Unlike plastic bags, fishing gear and other macro-plastic waste are so insidious because they are invisible to the naked eye. 

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