Africans must unite to fight plastic scourge

In March 2022 175 UN member countries unanimously adopted the resolution to end plastic pollution at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

Plastic pollution is an urgent crisis threatening the well-being of our planet and our communities.

Increasing volumes of plastic in our rivers and oceans are consumed by terrestrial and aquatic biota and have infiltrated the water and food consumed by humans If we continue along this “business as usual” path, plastic production will double, and subsequent leakage into the ocean will triple by 2040.

While Africa only produces 5% and consumes 4% of the total global plastic volumes, our people, land- and seascapes and the economy are experiencing its devastating impacts.


Thankfully, there is hope on the horizon. In March 2022, after years of policy advocacy and campaigning, 175 UN member countries unanimously adopted the resolution to end plastic pollution at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

To pave the way for effective change, we must draw on the recommendations outlined in the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) plastic report.

First and foremost, the Treaty must include binding global measures to ban, reduce, safely circulate, and manage high-risk plastics.

We must prioritise plastics with the highest pollution risks and identify specific polymers, products, applications, and chemicals of concern.

Global bans

Immediate global bans should be imposed on single-use, shortlived plastic products, such as cutlery, plates, cups, cotton bud sticks, and cigarette filters.

After an initial global feasibility assessment, it was found that these bans may be implemented without any overt negative environmental and socioeconomic consequences.

However, there may be a need to assess any socioeconomic implications at national level. Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure that any alternatives and substitutes to these plastic products should be fit-for-purpose, suit the local context and prevent any further unintended environmental consequences.

Most African countries are net importers of plastics. However, the existing collection, sorting and waste management infrastructure cannot cope with the flood of high-risk plastics entering the continent.

Binding global measures provide African countries a chance to control what enters their borders and curb the current rate of plastic pollution. Furthermore, the treaty must contain measures to remediate the existing, legacy plastic pollution currently found in nature.


To ensure successful implementation, it must be accompanied by ambitious mechanisms that provide timely, predictable, accessible and sufficient support, including technical and financial support, technology and capacity strengthening.

We must pay special attention to the needs of the least developed countries and small island developing states, ensuring every nation is supported in effectively addressing plastic pollution.

The success of this treaty hinges on inclusivity and collaboration. Meaningful consultations with stakeholders, including those in the informal sector and communities most affected by plastic pollution, are vital for creating a treaty representing global input and addressing local concerns, which is essential for a just transition.

This plastic pollution treaty is a turning point in human history, offering a lifeline to our planet. It is our chance to eliminate the plastics that inflict the most harm on our people, wildlife, and ecosystems.

It presents an opportunity to shift away from the single-use mindset exacerbating the climate crisis. We can actively shape a future that values and protects nature, fostering positive ecological outcomes for future generations.

ALSO READ: Calls to phase out plastic


Governments must rise to the occasion and raise their ambitions. The second round of negotiations for the UN Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution, held in Paris from 29 May to 2 June, has provided another important step forward in global efforts to address the worsening plastic crisis.

While tangible progress has been made, the world witnessed delays in the negotiation process in Paris, wasting critical time.

As we prepare for the next round of negotiations on African soil – in Kenya in November – we must not see a repeat in delays to the process.

This is an urgent global crisis that needs an urgent global response. This treaty is our one chance to rectify the mistakes of the past. Let us unite, demand action, and hold our governments and businesses accountable.

READ MORE: Coming years ‘critical’ to slash plastic pollution – UN

– Sadan is the regional plastics policy coordinator for Africa at the World Wide Fund for Nature

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