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Africa must improve its waste management policies – UN

Publish date: 12 June 2018
Issue Number: 4
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: General

As countries observed World Environment Day last week, the UN called for a concerted global effort to reduce plastic pollution and improve waste management, writes Legalbrief. UN Environment warned that Africa has become a dumping ground for waste. A Cape Times report notes that this is according to its Africa Waste Management Outlook, published jointly with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). They say only 4% of waste generated in Africa is being recycled, and Africa has therefore become a dumping ground for waste, particularly hazardous waste, often from developed countries. This is a far cry from the AU’s vision that African cities will be recycling at least 50% of the waste they generate by 2023, the CSIR said. Professor Linda Godfrey, principal scientist at the CSIR, was the co-ordinating lead author of the publication and highlighted the need for Africa to start addressing current poor waste management. ‘This will require social and technological innovation, and investment in services and infrastructure in the waste and secondary resources sector never before seen in Africa,’ she said. The report found that while a number of international, continental and regional policies are in place to address pollution and waste in Africa, it remains unclear how these policies have been translated into action. ‘The report sets a vision for Africa and we hope that this document will inform and inspire decision-makers around the continent to preserve the environment,’ said UN Environment Programme regional head Cecilia Njenga.

Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)


​In an effort to cut down on pollution and safeguard the environment, the City of Johannesburg will roll out a phased approach to make ‘separation at source’ mandatory for households from 1 July. According to a Business Tech report, households will be required to separate certain recyclable materials from other waste before they are picked up for collection. The city said last week its biggest challenge is trying to change human behaviour and getting people to understand how they impact the environment in the way they deal with plastic. City councillor Nico De Jager said that more details on the programme will be communicated on 12 June – following which, the city plans to make the details of the roll-out known to all residents. The announcement follows a noticeable push by both the private and public sectors to cut down on plastic and other pollution. In May, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa indicated that her department is looking at the possibility of reviewing legislation with a view to phasing out harmful plastic products including straws. Last week, both Pick n Pay and Woolworths also announced a number of initiatives to cut down on plastic packaging.

Full Business Tech report

Unilever unveiled a R50m biomass boiler at its Maydon Wharf factory in Durban last week. Unilever SA executive vice-president Luc-Olivier Marquet said the biomass boiler would reduce CO2 emissions, waste-to-landfill and the amount of electricity used in production at Maydon Wharf. A report in The Mercury notes that Marquet also symbolically signed the company’s global commitment to ensuring that all its plastic packaging would be fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. ‘This undertaking has been made because of growing concerns about plastic pollution – and because it is the right thing to do,’ he said.

Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)

Plastic carrier bags will be banned in Botswana from 1 November, the country's Deputy Director of the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control, Frank Molebatsi, said last week. A Daily News report notes that Molebatsi explained that the decision was made following several attempts to manage and control the use of plastic carrier bags in the past. Molebatsi said that those found using plastic bags would be fined a maximum of R6 356 and/or imprisoned for a period not exceeding 30 days.

Full Daily News report

Ugandan President Museveni last week ordered 45 plastic manufacturers in the country to stop making polythene bags or kaveera, reviving a shelved government ban on the environmentally hazardous product. A report on the allAfrica site quotes the President as saying: ‘My message to the plastics industry is that you should manufacture, distribute and sell only permitted quality plastics. The continued manufacture of banned products must stop.’ Museveni made the call during the World Environment Day celebrations in Mbale Town. He was referring to an earlier ban on the manufacture of polythene bags. ‘This law has not been repealed and should be enforced,’ he added. Implementation of the ban by National Environment Management Authority, however, hit a snag following inter-ministerial disagreement on the back of intense lobbying by plastics manufacturers. There are more than 40 such industries in the country, and insiders say some Ministers and other powerful politicians have stakes in them.

Full report on the allAfrica site

Fifty nations worldwide are now acting to reduce plastic pollution, according to the biggest report so far from the UN. According to a BBC News report, the study reveals that the Galapagos will ban single-use plastics, Sri Lanka will ban styrofoam and China is insisting on biodegradable bags. But the authors warn that far more needs to be done to reduce the vast flow of plastic into rivers and oceans. They say good policies to curb plastic waste in many nations have failed because of poor enforcement. The report says policies to combat plastic waste have had mixed results. In Cameroon, plastic bags are banned, and households are paid for every kilo of plastic waste they collect, but still plastic bags are being smuggled in. In several countries, rules on plastic exist but are poorly enforced. The report presents an A-Z of 35 potential bio substitutes for plastic. Some policy-makers, though, are wary about hyping the potential of bio alternatives. Early optimism by some environmentalists about biofuels backfired when rainforests were felled to grow palm oil to fuel cars. Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: ‘The assessment shows that action can be painless and profitable – with huge gains for people and the planet that help avert the costly downstream costs of pollution. Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it.’ The authors also cite a fundamental need for broader cooperation from business, including obliging plastic producers to take responsibility and offering incentives to stimulate more recycling.

Full BBC News report


After the study was published, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged people to stop using single-use plastics. A Mail & Guardian Online report quotes him as saying: ‘A healthy planet is essential for a prosperous and peaceful future. The message is simple: reject single-use plastic. Refuse what you can’t re-use.’ According to Guterres, more than 8m tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. Noting that the world marked World Oceans Day that week, Guterres said that there are more microplastics – small fragments of plastic – in the ocean than there are stars in the galaxy. More than 600 marine species are harmed by plastic waste, according to the study. Guterres believes that worldwide collaboration will help to create a more suitable environment for all living species. ‘Together, we can chart a path to a cleaner, greener world,’ he said.

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Full report on the Mail & Guardian Online site