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Addressing the growing problem of plastic pollution in Africa requires an urgent and comprehensive systemic response from governments, businesses, sustainable development experts and civil society to keep countries from drowning in a sea of ​​plastic waste while discovering the economic benefits of good waste. management.

This is the goal of the Pan-African Conference Towards Zero Plastics in the Seas of Africa (May 23-27), which will bring together decision-makers in the plastic value chain from the public and private sectors to formulate concrete proposals. continental and island nations of Africa.

Organized by the African Marine Garbage Network Sustainable Seas Trust in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, the five-day conference is a results-oriented event where delegates will be able to contribute to a clear decision-making structure for plastics management. . in Guidelines for developing national and regional action plans should be released by October this year.

This pan-African conference follows a resolution of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) to develop a global legally binding agreement 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 problems,” said Dr. Tony Ribbink, founding director and current CEO of the Sustainable Seas Trust and director of the African Marine Landfill Network. program.

There is no single solution strategy

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

“The draft decision-making system also recognizes that not all African countries are the same and that, for example, investment in processing plants may not make economic sense for some island states or small landlocked countries.

“The development guide identifies the alternatives and actions to be taken at each stage of the value chain.”

Ribbink said delegates would have the opportunity to review individual sections of the draft guide, provide facts and confirm the concept of case studies from their region or country, and make corrections.

Leading CSIR researcher and one of the keynote speakers at the conference, Professor Linda Godfrey, agreed that no one-size-fits-all strategy would solve the problem.

“This will require everything from brand owners and retailers at the initial stage to solutions from municipalities and businesses to improve waste management and recycling. For this reason, if we want to solve the waste problem in Africa, we need to get all stakeholders moving in the same direction.

Bad prospects for Africa

As a lead author of CSIR and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Prospects for waste management in AfricaGodfrey described Africa’s current approach as catastrophic and said that continental and island nations could not continue their usual vision of development and waste management.

“Because 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%, a significant amount of waste is incinerated or disposed of. gets into our environment. This has serious economic, social and environmental consequences. 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 that are currently being generated. We have poor waste collection and disposal, increasingly uncontrolled dumping and open waste incineration.

In addition, with Africa’s population of 1.3 billion doubling by 2050, rapid urbanization and growing consumption among the growing middle class, Godfrey said Africa is likely to experience significant growth in waste production due to a system failure.

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

It’s time to talk

Ribbink said many previous attempts to formulate an answer to the problem of plastic waste were at best superficial or theoretical and lacked specific action plans and practical steps.

Godfrey added: “We no longer have the luxury or the time to just talk. Such conferences should be aimed at finding practical and appropriate solutions for waste management, especially plastic, in Africa.

“This conference also provides an opportunity to demonstrate the latest views on a variety of solutions, from regulation and technology to education and awareness.”

Godfrey said everyone in the plastic value chain, local and national authorities, academia and other stakeholders, have an important role to play in addressing these issues.

“We need people who come together to solve these problems: those who make decisions who can actually make decisions; researchers who are important for providing evidence-based solutions; civil society groups that are at the center of solving these problems in communities.

As a targeted opportunity, the conference provides Africa with an accelerated mechanism to achieve the goals of UNEA and UNEP, which through action plans will further help countries reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (CSDs). In addition, UNEP representatives will be present to promote the Global Commitment, which brings together more than 500 organizations around a shared vision of building a circular economy for plastics.

The initiative, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UNEP, has led companies and governments around the world to commit to tackling plastic pollution at its source with ambitious goals to be achieved by 2025. Measures include removing unnecessary plastic. and rework them. which are necessary 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/