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Will the global plastics treaty be any use for Malawi?

Tearfund partner and ecologist, Dr Tiwonge Gawa, shares what the plastic treaty could mean for her home country.

Written by Tearfund | 19 Mar 2024

Dr Tiwonge Gawa and Rev'd Dennis Nthenge at INC3 Nairobi treaty negotiations. Credit: Jessica Bwali/Tearfund.

Dr Tiwonge Gawa and Rev'd Dennis Nthenge at INC3 Nairobi treaty negotiations. Credit: Jessica Bwali / Tearfund.

In April 2024, the UN member states will reconvene in Canada to continue negotiations on the plastic treaty. The draft document is now two or three times larger than what was presented in November 2023 in Kenya. All the different options and alternatives presented are to be discussed. Each nation is going in with their targets: some will truly impact the crisis while others will not. What will it mean for Malawi?

Growing crisis in Malawi

The total waste generation for the major cities in Malawi (Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba, and Mzuzu) is expected to triple by 2050. These four main cities generate more than 1,000 tons in solid waste per day. The city waste management systems are inadequate to cope with the amount of waste currently generated. Most city areas are currently serviced by an informal waste collection service if any. Plastic waste, particularly single-use items such as bottles and shopping bags, make up a large portion of the generated waste.

The country's water bodies, including Lake Malawi, are increasingly contaminated with plastic debris, endangering aquatic life and the livelihoods of communities dependent on fisheries. Plastics pose serious threats to public health, providing breeding ground for disease vectors,through toxins released when burning and from contaminating soil and water, jeopardising agricultural productivity and exacerbating food insecurity.
Rev Dennis, Tearfund campaigner and Coordinator of Green Anglicans and   Dr Tiwonge, ecologist and Tearfund campaigner from Malawi at the plastics treaty negotiations in Kenya. Credit: Jessica Bwali/Tearfund.

Dr Tiwonge, ecologist and Tearfund campaigner from Malawi at the plastics treaty negotiations in Kenya. Credit: Jessica Bwali/Tearfund.

‘Game-changer’ treaty

Irrespective of this, the Malawi courts are still yet to conclude on the injunction that forbids the government to implement the ban on thin plastics. An international legally binding treaty could be a game-changer for Malawi. It will help move the current discussion from just the ‘thin plastic ban’ to much more important issues like advocating for limits on the production of single-use plastics, reduced entry of thin plastics into Malawi and ensuring that local companies are more transparent about what they are using in their plastic production.

At present the small efforts to recycle are hampered by the inability to separate the different plastic types as most Malawian-produced plastic has no labelling to indicate its type of plastic. This treaty will also help in shifting responsibility to manufacturers for the entire lifecycle of their products, including proper disposal and recycling, thereby providing sustainable packaging practices and reducing the burden on Malawi’s waste management systems.

A global treaty might facilitate financial aid and technology transfer to assist Malawi in developing efficient waste management systems and recycling infrastructure. International collaboration can support educational initiatives in Malawi to raise awareness about the hazards of plastic pollution, fostering a culture of responsible consumption and waste disposal. So yes, this treaty does matter to Malawi, and we must play our part to ensure that it is an instrument that delivers. As a country we need to push for a treaty that will indeed make a difference to all Malawians for the better.

Read more about Dr Tiwonge’s work as an ecologist and plastic activist.

Through the Rubbish Campaign we are calling on the UK Government and those negotiating the treaty to ensure it fully addresses the impacts of plastic pollution on those living in poverty. Add your voice and sign the petition today!

This article was previously published by Renew our World

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