By Zainab Sadan
Plastic pollution is an urgent crisis that threatens the well-being of our planet and our communities. Increasing amounts of plastic in our rivers and oceans are being consumed by terrestrial and aquatic organisms and seeping into the water and food consumed by humans. The devastating impact of plastic pollution knows no bounds, and plastic now weighs more than all land and sea animals combined. If we continue on this business-as-usual path, plastic production will double and by 2040, the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean will triple. We Africans must come together and demand action from our governments and businesses to tackle this global problem.
Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon. In March 2022, after years of policy advocacy and campaigning, 175 UN member states unanimously adopted a resolution to end plastic pollution at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi. The time has come to seize this opportunity and push for comprehensive and binding global rules and measures across the entire plastics life cycle. To drive effective change, we must take advantage of the recommendations outlined in WWF’s Plastics Report, which highlights critical solutions to combat plastic pollution.
First, the agreement should include global measures to ban, reduce, safely distribute and control high-risk plastics. We should prioritize plastics with the highest contamination risk and identify specific products, applications, and chemicals of concern. An immediate global ban on single-use, short-lived plastic products such as cutlery, plates, cups, cotton bud sticks and cigarette filters should be implemented. After a preliminary feasibility assessment at the global level, it was found that these bans could be implemented without any apparent adverse environmental and socioeconomic impacts; However, there may be a need to assess any socio-economic impacts at the national level. Furthermore, any alternatives and substitutes for these products need to be ensured to be fit for purpose, appropriate to the local situation and prevent further unintended environmental and socio-economic impacts.
To ensure successful implementation, the agreement should be accompanied by ambitious mechanisms that provide technical and financial support, technology transfer and capacity building. We must pay special attention to the needs of least developed countries and small island developing states, ensuring the support of all countries in effectively tackling plastic pollution.
Most African countries are net importers of plastics; However, existing collection, sorting and waste management infrastructure cannot cope with the flood of plastics entering the continent. The success of this agreement is inclusive and collaborative. While consensus is the aspiration of multilateral processes, policymakers must ensure that no country can veto the progress of the global community. Meaningful consultations with stakeholders in the informal sector and communities most affected by plastic pollution are essential to form an agreement that represents global input and addresses local concerns.
This plastic pollution treaty is a turning point in human history, offering a lifeline to our planet. This is our chance to eliminate the plastics that do the most harm to our people, wildlife and ecosystems. It also provides an opportunity to move away from the single-use mentality that exacerbates the climate crisis. Through this, we can actively shape a future that values and protects nature, fostering positive environmental outcomes for future generations.
Governments must rise to the occasion and raise their ambitions. The meeting in Paris at the end of May 2023 (2 June 2023) is an ideal platform to strengthen the control measures outlined in WWF’s Plastics Report.
As Africans, we have the knowledge and the means to deal directly with plastic pollution. The Global Plastics Pollution Agreement is our one chance to right the wrongs of the past. Let’s unite, demand action, and hold our governments and businesses accountable. Together, we can protect our environment, protect our wildlife and ensure the well-being of all animals, including pets and pets. We can work towards healthier communities and people and secure a sustainable future for Africa and the world.