Plastics treaty will be a major win for Africa and the environment

During the recent Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC2) meeting in Paris, France, Africa submitted a sessional paper with one key collective objective for the treaty to end plastic pollution.

The plastics treaty negotiations are scheduled to continue through 2024, with regular sessions of INC that will be a catalyst for change and a turning point in Africa, a continent heavily impacted by plastic waste, yet plays a minimal role in plastic production.

Today, plastic pollution has rapidly become the most pressing environmental threat to the people and planet, thus the need to have a legally binding treaty to control the menace.

Developing countries suffer from the health and environmental impacts of toxic chemicals and wastes more than developed countries. Plastic consumer products are one of the main sources of human exposure to toxic chemicals.

There is a lot of burning of waste in Africa, which generates new, even more, toxic chemicals such as chlorinated and brominated dioxins and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. What does this treaty mean to Africa? Africa is not a major producer of plastic or chemicals, yet it's one of the most negatively impacted continents.

Estimates show that the world will produce about 26 billion tonnes of plastic waste by 2050 and without global policies to reduce plastic production, there will be an unequal exchange of plastic waste from high-income countries to non-high-income countries.

The plastic treaty is about creating global controls on plastics and chemicals, not waste and recycling. The treaty would mean just a transition to waste pickers and to vulnerable communities impacted daily by the negative effects of plastic waste.

Most importantly, it will mean a healthy lifestyle for the majority of plastics are contaminated with toxins and chemicals.

A recent study on hazardous chemicals in plastic products and food chains in Kenya from the Centre for Environment Justice and Development (CEJAD), IPEN, and Arnikas shows that extremely high levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including dioxin-like PCBs likely produced from burning and disposal of plastic and electronic wastes are contaminating the food supply in Kenya. Alarmingly, free-range chicken eggs were found to be contaminated.

Testing found levels of these POPs chemicals in eggs that are as much as 111 times higher than EU regulatory limits for dioxins plus dioxin-like PCBs and showed that an adult eating a single egg from one Kenyan location could be exposed to a dose of toxic chemicals that would exceed the EU daily safety limit for more than 250 days. Plastic waste exports also unequally burden people in low- and middle-income countries with plastic waste from wealthier nations.

Africa lacks the infrastructure to process the waste, thus making plastics, filling waterways, clogging roads and fields, and becoming intricately mixed into animal feed. Plastics don't biodegrade, so the tiny shreds will remain in water, soil, and air for centuries. Studies have linked exposure to microplastics in aquatic organisms to decreased food consumption, weight loss and energy depletion, growth rate, and fertility.

The treaty will complement African plastic bans despite national bans in some African countries and amendments to the Basel Convention. Without international treaties, most of Africa's plastic bans have not been successful due to porous borders and the unregulated production and transportation of plastics.

The treaty will make it mandatory for all parties to meet their obligations and set out additional commitments to achieve both national and global objectives which will reduce cross-border smuggling. The treaty, once adopted will be a turning point for the continent in managing waste.