Lilongwe, Malawi June 5 2023: Today is World Environment Day, a day the UN set aside to encourage awareness and action for protecting the environment.
World Environment Day (WED) 2023 is being hosted by the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with The Netherlands.
The focus for WED 2023 is on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution. The day reminds us that people’s actions on plastic pollution matter and highlights some of the actions governments and businesses are taking to tackle the issue.
The UN Environmental Agency says that the world is inundated with plastic waste. Over 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced yearly, half designed for single use.
Consequently, huge amounts of plastic persist for long periods in the environment, with hazardous effects on the health and well-being of people and the planet.
The main driver of these worsening harms is almost an exponential and still accelerating growth in global production and consumption of plastics. The projected population growth, urbanisation, and consumption pattern shifts will likely exacerbate the challenge.
Of the approximately 172 million tonnes of plastics consumed in Africa, less than 10 per cent is recycled. An estimated 19-23 million tonnes end up in lakes, rivers and seas, devastatingly affecting society, economy and the environment.
According to the UN, several countries in Africa including Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Kenya, Mali, Cameroon, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, South Africa, Rwanda and Botswana have implemented strict policies on single-use plastics such as bans and high taxes. However, these have had mixed results.
As we focus on efforts to beat plastic pollution, we are not oblivious that the war against plastic pollution is more than riding off eyesore garbage from our neighbourhoods. Instead, like many development challenges we seek to address, plastic pollution is intricately linked to other sectors. Furthermore, the challenge is also gendered and affects women and men differently. Often, women also get more exposure to micro-plastic wastes than men. In Uganda, for example, 8 in ten people who collect plastic waste are women and thus exposed to the dangers of pervasive micro-plastic wastes on their bodies.
Plastics’ impacts on fisheries lead to the reduction of fish which affects fisherfolk’s ability to meet their families’ food needs, with disproportional effects on women and children. Female-headed households relying on the fish trade are affected the most. Besides the plastic pollution in the fishing trade, female fish traders face a high risk of sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
Multifaceted development challenges like plastic pollution require cross-sectoral systems thinking, which recognizes the interconnectedness of sectors and actors.
Incidentally, such efforts to address plastic pollution should not be confined to the environmental sector as they require joint action and partnerships with other sectors such as public health; trade and manufacturing; gender, youth and social development; among others.
The USAID-funded BUILD project recognizes people’s interconnectedness, health, and the environment on which life depends.
Implemented in Africa and Asia, the BUILD project seeks to support decision-makers to appreciate systems thinking and understand the cross-sectoral benefits of health, including the role of population dynamics and voluntary family planning.
The project also seeks to increase gender equality and promote youth empowerment to achieve sustainable development outcomes.
The author, Clive Mutunga, is the Director of the USAID-funded BUILD Project. BUILD is implemented by a consortium of partners in Africa, Asia and the U.S., led by the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP)