Africa set to become world’s biggest plastic polluter

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Africa is set to overtake Asia as the biggest plastic polluter in the world. This has been the warning from Dr Tony Ribbink from the Africa Marine Waste Network.

He has invited the KwaZulu-Natal Marine Waste Network at a workshop in Durban to become part of a continental effort to keep plastic waste out of the oceans.

In 2015, a video went viral on social media showing scientists struggling for eight agonising minutes to remove an object from a sea turtle’s nose. What they at first thought to be a worm turned out to be a plastic straw. This video kick started global campaigns to keep plastic out of the oceans.

Dr Ribbink warns that plastic is as big a source of greenhouse gasses as transport.

“The contribution these days is believed to be round about 10%, which is nearly as much as all the vehicles. And a finger is often pointed at the vehicles, but plastics also need to be looked at. One of the frightening things about plastics is that, apparently, lying in the sun photo-degradation means that it gives off greenhouse gasses. So we really do need to look very carefully at how we treat plastics. And Africa may be one of the worst offenders in that because there is a lot of burning on landfalls.”

The Africa Marine Waste Network is using aerial photographs, satellite pictures, booms and drones to see where the dumping hot spots are.

Ribbink warns that Africa could overtake Asia as the biggest plastic polluter globally. This as Africa’s population is set to double by 2050 and Asia is cleaning up its act.

He says the message should not be to save marine life, but how people could benefit from preventing plastic pollution.

“Unless we look after the people in Africa, we are not going to be able to look after the environment. If we look after the people, then the environment will actually look after itself. And so we need to make it profitable for people to live in a clean, healthy environment, to be prosperous. So the economic aspect is hugely important.”

Emmanuel Sakadu from the South African Health says a study in the south of Durban has shown that rivers are heavily polluted as it flows past several informal settlements where there is no refuse collection. Sakadu says they have also found that very few NGO’s run awareness campaigns in these areas.

“And we realised that the education initiatives in schools are amazing. But then when it comes to community based education awareness programmes that is supposed to address problems, we had very little of them. And a lot of NGO’s did not want to venture into communities. They were comfortable with the low hanging fruit which is our learners and dealing with them.”

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Durban Green Corridor project have put booms in rivers elsewhere in the city to stop plastic waste from flowing to the sea. Nomfundo Phewa of the Durban Green Corridor says they have started making pavers from invasive plants and plastic picked from the river.

“So the reason why we use the alien invasive plants is because it has a strong fibre that doesn’t deteriorate as easily. And we incorporate the plastic into it to eliminate the amounts of litter that gets into our rivers and streams. And In terms of the UKZN partnership, they are currently running a Neptune Project, where they collect all our plastics and non-recyclable plastics. And they incorporate; for example they have a fashion design from the plastic.”

Ribbink has invited the KwaZulu-Natal Marine Waste Network formed in 2016, to become part of the African network. He has proposed that four clean up drives be held in 2020 during which detailed records are kept to guide future efforts.”