Every minute, enough plastic waste to cover a football pitch is openly dumped or burnt in Sub Saharan Africa, new analysis by international relief and development agency Tearfund has found.
Current statistics from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) also show that the region will produce almost six times more plastic waste in 2060 than it did in 2019.
The shocking figures have been revealed as governments prepare for the third stage of the UN plastics treaty negotiations in Nairobi, Kenya from Monday, November 13 to Sunday, November 19 2023.
Seen as the most important international environmental agreement since the Paris Climate deal, the global treaty could be the first legally-binding global agreement on plastic pollution, and could help close the pollution gap impacting the lives of billions of people around the world. If negotiations are successful, the treaty could come into force in 2025.
Rich Gower, senior economist at Tearfund, said: “The signs of environmental breakdown are all around us, but this treaty has the potential to curb the plastics crisis and improve the lives of billions of people. Negotiators should feel the weight of the world's hopes on their shoulders as they meet in Nairobi. They need to agree to big reductions in the production of plastics, ensure that all the rest is collected and recycled, and deliver justice for waste pickers.”
Tearfund will be at the negotiations in Kenya calling on governments to push for a plastics treaty that fully addresses the impacts of waste on people living in poverty, by ensuring four things are mandatory in the final agreement:
- Reduction: legally binding targets to reduce plastic production and scale up reuse solutions
- Recycling: universal access to waste collection and recycling
- Respect: support for waste pickers, including a just transition
- Response: mechanisms to ensure businesses and governments take action
As the negotiations come to Nairobi, church leaders including Archbishops, Bishops, pastors and deacons from across Africa are uniting their voices in an open letter, calling on politicians across the continent to work for a treaty that delivers ‘change for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters’ and that has justice at its heart.
Reverend Dennis Nthenge, chaplain to the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya and Tearfund activist, who will be at the talks, said: “Plastic use in Africa is spiralling out of control. In fact, it is growing faster in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other part of the world. If the current trend continues, the region will produce almost six times more plastic waste in 2060 than it did in 2019, and many countries do not have the capacity to manage it.
“It is crucial this treaty delivers real change for communities across Africa, and especially for those living in poverty who are most impacted by the plastic pollution crisis.” Church leaders from countries including Angola, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Seychelles have signed the letter. Notable signatories include the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya Jackson Ole Sapit and Bishop Dr Brighton Vita Malasa from Malawi.
Tearfund partner and campaigner Dr Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, from Malawi, who will be at the negotiations in Kenya, added: “While these negotiations continue, the health of people in Malawi and across Africa is being impacted by plastic pollution every day. “
In Malawi, we see burning and dumping of plastic waste everyday, harming people’s health. These negotiations have shown that change is coming, but it will not come easily. There are some who profit from this plastic crisis and want to keep ambition as low as possible.”
Please add your voice to our campaign by logging onto www.tearfund.org/rubbish to sign our petition.
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Notes to editors
How are the figures worked out?
Tearfund has used the most up to date figures available on mismanaged plastic waste from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) report called Global Policies Outlook: Policies to 2060 which was released on June 21 2022. We have used existing statistics of the estimated regional weight of plastic waste produced and the estimated regional proportion of mismanaged plastic waste in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2019 and 2060. To convert the weight of plastic waste to volume, we used the same ratio as that used by the Everyday Plastic report. Note that this is based on plastic as it is thrown away from the household, so before being mechanically crushed. In this report, 35kg of uncrushed plastic waste was equivalent to 1.5m³. We used the same ratio to convert kilograms into cubic metres. To convert this into the number of football pitches covered per minute, we used the size of football pitches in professional teams’ stadiums, which is 105 by 68 metres, and assumed that to ‘cover’ the pitch with plastic would require a depth of 0.1 metres (10 centimetres). This creates a volume of 714 cubic metres per football pitch.
Background on the treaty
On 2 March 2022, at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in Nairobi, a resolution was passed by UN member states giving the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) the mandate to convene an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument (treaty) on plastic pollution with the aim of completing this work by the end of 2024 when the treaty will be ready for ratification. The first session of the INC, known as INC-1, took place from 28 November to 2 December 2022 in Uruguay, where more than 1,400 in-person and virtual delegates from 147 countries took part in the meeting, which set the foundations for the global agreement. INC-2 took place from May 28 to June 2 2023 in France with 1,673 in-person attendees, including delegates from 167 governments. In September the first draft of the treaty was released. Governments will meet from November 13 to 19 in Kenya for INC-3 to scrutinise the draft. Two further INC sessions are planned for 2024. These sessions will see governments work out the content and logistics of the treaty, in order to develop and adopt a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.
Tearfund is a Christian charity that partners with churches in more than 50 of the world’s poorest countries. We tackle poverty through sustainable development, responding to disasters and challenging injustice. We believe an end to extreme poverty is possible. Tearfund is also a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit www.tearfund.org