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ADDRESSING the growing problem of plastic pollution in Africa requires an urgent and comprehensive systemic response from governments, businesses, sustainability experts and civil society if countries are to avoid drowning in a sea of ​​plastic waste. , while unlocking the economic benefits of good waste management.

This is the objective of the pan-African conference “Towards Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa” (23-27 May), which will bring together the main decision-makers in the plastics value chain, from the public and private sectors to formulate concrete proposals. . action plans for the 54 continental and island states of Africa.

Organized by the Sustainable Seas Trust’s African Marine Litter Network in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, the five-day conference is a results-driven event, where delegates will have the opportunity to contribute to a clear decision-making framework for plastics management. . the Guide for the development of national and regional action plans should be released by October this year.

This pan-African conference follows the resolution of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) to develop a global legally binding treaty on plastic waste by 2024.

“As the second most polluted continent, it is important for us to take proactive action and find unique African solutions to our own challenges,” said Dr Tony Ribbink, founding director and current CEO of Sustainable Seas Trust, and Director of its African Network on Marine Litter. program.

No single solution strategy

“Strategies that work in other parts of the world don’t necessarily apply to Africa,” Ribbink said.

“The draft decision framework also recognizes that not all African countries are the same and that, for example, investing in recycling plants may not make economic sense for some island states or small landlocked countries.

“The developing guide sets out the alternatives and actions that need to be taken at each stage of the value chain.”

Ribbink said delegates would have the opportunity to review specific chapters of the draft guide in detail, and contribute facts and proof-of-concept case studies from their region or country, as well as make corrections.

CSIR’s lead scientist and one of the keynote speakers at the conference, Professor Linda Godfrey, agreed that no one-size-fits-all strategy will solve the problem.

“This will require everything from upstream interventions from brand owners and retailers to downstream solutions from municipalities and businesses to improve waste management and recycling. For this reason, we need to get all stakeholders pulling in the same direction if we are to solve the waste problem in Africa.

Bad prospects for Africa

As lead author of CSIR and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Prospects for waste management in AfricaGodfrey described Africa’s current approach as disastrous and said continental and island states could not continue with their business as usual vision in the face of development and waste management challenges.

“As most ‘landfills’ in Africa are simply uncontrolled or controlled landfills, with an average waste collection rate of only 55% and an estimated recycling rate of only 4%, significant amounts of waste are burned or disposed of. escape into our environment. This has serious economic, social and environmental repercussions. The cost of inaction for Africa will be significant,” she said.

“Our current waste management systems cannot cope with the types and tonnages of waste currently being generated. We have poor waste collection and disposal and increasingly uncontrolled dumping and open burning of waste.

Furthermore, with Africa’s population of 1.3 billion set to double by 2050, rapid urbanization and growing consumption from a growing middle class, Godfrey said Africa is likely to experience significant growth in the production of waste on the back of a failing system.

“All of this leads to waste leakage and pollution of our land, water and air. We cannot carry on as if nothing had happened. »

The time is up to speak

Ribbink said many previous attempts to formulate an answer to the plastic waste problem had been superficial or theoretical at best, and lacked concrete action plans and practical steps.

Godfrey added: “We no longer have the luxury, or the time, to just talk. Conferences like this must aim to find practical and appropriate solutions to tackle waste, especially plastic waste, in Africa.

“This conference also provides an opportunity to showcase the latest thinking on various solutions, from regulation and technology to education and awareness.”

Godfrey said everyone in the plastics value chain, local and national governments, academia and other stakeholders had an important role to play in ensuring these issues could be addressed.

“We need people coming together to solve these problems: decision makers who can actually implement solutions; researchers who are essential to providing evidence-based solutions; civil society groups who are at the heart of addressing these issues in communities.

As a targeted opportunity, the conference provides an accelerated mechanism for Africa to achieve the UNEA and UNEP targets, which through the action plans will further help countries achieve the 2030 agenda. for sustainable development and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Additionally, UNEP representatives will be present to promote the Global Commitment, which has united over 500 organizations around a common vision of building a circular economy for plastics.

Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with UNEP, the initiative has seen companies and governments around the world commit to tackling the problem of plastic pollution at its source, with ambitious targets to be reached d ‘by 2025. Measures include eliminating unnecessary plastics and redesigning them. that are needed so that they can be safely reused, recycled or composted.

For more information or to register for the conference, visit: https://conference.sst.org.za/

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