Plastic is the scourge of Africa

Isipingo - river of plastic.previewYesterday, the BBC reported Mauritania’s environment minister is planning to implement a ban on plastic bags in the West African nation. A bold step. Not all plastic, I assure you, but small, thin plastic bags. The ones you receive from salespeople on the street, and at every shop when purchasing small items (even when it’s small enough to fit in your pocket).

Since being in Africa over the last two months, I’ve been shocked to see the lack of environmental awareness, or even action to try and keep the streets clean of plastic trash and debris. This is something most people around the world take pride in doing, being taught at a young age that littering is wrong, or at least being shamed by a parent for doing so.

In Africa, plastic is everywhere. It’s the scourge of Africa. Now is time for governments to take action, because it doesn’t look like people are aware of how dire the situation is. For example, every minute of every day someone under the hot sun is drinking water from a plastic sachet, then discarding it into the natural environment (not many people drink from water bottles). What can be done to stop this? A public awareness campaign?

I guess its never too late to try, but what needs to be taken is action. In Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya (East Africa) steps are being taken to rid these nations of harmful plastic waste. Mauritania looks like the first in West Africa to take action, which surprises me considering Ghana just passed a law on Jan.1, 2013 banning second-hand refrigerators because of the environmental damage caused by these old, used appliances.

Maybe they should be banned, but if you want to start a modern environmental campaign, a government should start at the street-level (literally!). Plastic waste should be dealt with first, then take it one step at a time (including e-waste!). Ghana is known as a “digital dumping ground.” A place where first-world countries send their discarded, often non-useable, computers and television sets (in the name of bridging the digital divide). This means the “developed” world is literally dumping e-waste into the lap of the developing world, leaving the poor in Ghana to clean up the mess. But that’s another rant altogether.

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Posted in op-ed
One comment on “Plastic is the scourge of Africa
  1. Kim says:

    Even if a TV set hasn’t been used, it’s made from plastic. Alas there isn’t much these days that isn’t made from plastic, including electronics. But then this does mean it SHOULD be recyclable.

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