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Global plastic treaty will deter powerful nations from dumping in Africa

By Amos Wemanya | August 3rd 2021

Plastic waste. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

The world is living in a state of multiple crises; climate crisis, plastic crisis, health crisis and social crisis. Today, globalisation connects almost every part of the planet through a series of well-established trade routes. This presents us with great opportunities to collaborate and enable meaningful cooperation to address most of these challenges that we are faced with.

But it also presents us with a challenge of transferring negative impacts of unsustainable practices to the remotest part of the planet, exacerbating problems many societies may already be struggling to overcome; inequalities, exclusion, resource constraints and pollution.

Many communities are facing a plastic crisis. A recent UN report found society’s most vulnerable are impacted the worst by environmental injustice caused by plastic pollution. However, for the first time in history, consideration of a future global plastic treaty to tackle the plastic crisis is on the table. More countries than ever are backing this process but profit driven interests at the expense of people’s wellbeing from corporations could obstruct an effective treaty.

Africa is grappling with the impacts of the plastic crisis. In many of the urban areas in Africa, plastic waste is clogging waterways, leading to floods and destruction. Plastic pollution is overflowing our landfills. Our oceans and rivers are filled with plastics.

Kenyans too have had their fair share of pressure from the plastic and petrochemical industry. Kenya and the US are currently engaged in talks on a proposed Free Trade Agreement. However, the American Chemistry Council has been lobbying to use the US-Kenya trade deal to expand the plastics industry’s footprint across Africa. Essentially lobbying for Africa states to open themselves up as dumping sites for their plastic waste.

Africa is at the forefront of the war on plastics, with 34 out of 54 countries having adopted some regulation to phase out single-use plastics. Kenya passed one of the toughest laws on the production, sale, and use of plastic bags in 2017 and recently expanded on it to outlaw plastics in protected areas. These efforts are under threat, as demonstrated in the proposal by the American Chemistry Council in the on-going US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement debacle.

It is disappointing that neither Kenya nor the US has yet to publicly support the development of the pioneering global plastic treaty agreement. And, South Africa has shown an unfavourable position toward it too. African countries need to be firm and protect the future of their people and ensure a thriving sustainable future for communities by supporting the development of this global agreement aimed at addressing the challenges of the plastic crisis.

Similarly, the proposal for a global plastic treaty presents Joe Biden’s administration a key moment to ensure the US is not a barrier to this effort. The US needs to demonstrate leadership by declaring it will not support any trade agreement that will dump plastics on communities around the globe. The recent surge of illegal dumping in Africa is completely unacceptable.

Plastic pollution goes beyond national borders. This makes it important for all African countries to support this global response to enable them to gain from the efforts that are already in place. Supporting a global plastic treaty will enable African countries to tackle challenges such as influx of plastics from other regions through actions like the US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement.

African leadership has the power to enable the change that is needed to address the challenges presented by the global plastic crisis. Cooperation across Africa is needed in forging a strong fight for a plastic-free future. This treaty is an opportunity for our leadership to demonstrate the commitments they have made to addressing plastic pollution on the continent, and to show that they are truly on the side of the people.  

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