Kenyan Children Turning Tide on Plastic Pollution

This is Jayden, not his real name, a young boy in Kongoni primary school in Taita Taveta County, speaking on the importance of keeping the environment free of plastic materials to safeguard humans, livestock, and wildlife.

BY Lina Mwamachi

Jayden, a pupil at Kongoni Primary, explains the importance of fighting single-use plastic. Credit Lina Mwamachi

Jayden and other pupils and teachers from 31 different primary schools in the vast Taita Taveta county had gathered on this particular day to clean up the environment of plastics along the Tsavo West National Park. They all gathered alongside other stakeholders and leaders.

Jayden says it’s their mandate as members of a school club called Wildlife Club Members to clean the environment by collecting plastic wastes and nylons weekly from their school compound.

On this particular day, over 100kg of plastics, bottles, and metals were collected during a clean-up exercise organized by Lions Bluff Douglas Mwashi, operations manager.

Mwashi cites that they decided to involve school-going children in the initiative to brew up a crop of conservators who will change the environment for now and future generations, ensuring doing away with single-use plastic.

But why involve school-going children? Purity Manyatta, a liaison officer at the Lumo Conservancies, elaborates on the involvement of school children in cleaning the environment and managing plastic litter as key to pushing for a cleaner and safer environment away from plastic pollution.

Indeed, it’s a bottle for a book program that Purity says will continue every year to buy stationery for pupils in the area and safeguard their education.

In replica research conducted by Water Journalists Africa, a local organization in western Uganda, the Kazinga Channel schools project sows seeds of plastic waste management in young people through school conservation clubs.

Through these clubs, the pupils, their parents, teachers, and villagers in the sub-counties of Lake Katwe in the Kasese district and Katunguru in the Rubirizi district collect used plastic bottles that are later recycled into plastic shelters for saplings (growing trees) and trash bins. The remaining are burnt from the four incinerators built by this organization.

Plastic Pollution in Figures.

Global plastic pollution remains unabated, with recent UNCTAD figures revealing that the international plastic trade will hit a record of 1.2 trillion USD in 2022.

Despite increased awareness and environmental campaigning, a recent report highlights a record 139 million metric tons of single-use plastic waste in 2021 and hazardous waste generated, a 6 million metric ton increase from 2019, as explained in the data below from Our World in Data.

Strides in Africa

Africa stands at a critical juncture in its development, facing unprecedented economic growth and environmental challenges, particularly the increase of single-use plastics.

While African countries have initiated conversations on legislation, the approach remains decentralized, with some nations forming national laws and others collaborating on a harmonized regional system, as seen in East Africa with the draft single-use plastics bill tabled before the East African Community legislative assembly.

According to data from Our World in Data, the Sub-Saharan Africa region is responsible for 8.9% of globally mismanaged plastic waste (plastic that is either littered or inadequately disposed of).

As the world population and economies have grown, the global production of materials, such as plastics, paper, and aluminum, has increased significantly.

The data alludes that without proper waste management systems, this growth in consumption leads to a significant increase in mismanaged waste, leading to pollution of ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

What Way Ahead

Flipflopi Program Manager, Ms. Davina Ngei says pollution is everywhere, and plastic, one of the most visible representations of our footprint, is currently dominating community, policy, and media attention.

She adds that mismanaged plastic waste is, unfortunately, a familiar sight – piling up on streets, covering estates, clogging sewers, littering our parks, and lining the beaches.

Solutions like recycling plastic bottles and remodeling and reusing to make chairs, dhows, and beds, although temporary solutions to curbing plastic pollution, Ngei counts as simple solutions to managing the menace.

Flip Flop Project, a collective of global change-makers and the number one innovator, built the world’s first recycled plastic sailing dhow, bringing color and hope to the plastic pollution movement.

Ali Abdallah Alias, Ali Skanda, is a Lamu resident and one of the pioneers of the Flip Flopi project, and the brains behind the making of the sea dhows, including the vast plastic sailing ship in Lamu Island. He decided to forgo everything and immersed all his efforts in marine and environment conservation.

Abdallah says that the environment is vital to our daily lives and is one way to help curb climate change due to dirty emissions from incinerated plastics and other fossil fuels.

Ali Abdallah Environment Conservator -Flip Flopi – Lamu Island – Video Credit Lina

Among other players who are also inventing less destructive and sustainable solutions to managing plastic pollution is Tetra Pack, which has redesigned a new carton packaging for their commodities, including water, milk, and others, as seen in the clip below.

Tetra Pack repackaging – Credit Lina Mwamachi

Nevertheless, all efforts by different stakeholders and innovators, including Taka Taka Solutions, BAUS Taka Solutions, Mananasi Fibre, and more, are geared towards achieving one goal: to try to end single-use plastics and find simple solutions to managing plastic pollution.

Henrique Pacini, an economist at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva, UNCTAD, where he works on trade and circular economy, says it’s essential to care about plastic pollution, citing that it is time for the world to rethink other adaptable ways and usage of nonplastics materials to replace plastics.

Pacini says governments should negotiate to rethink and set rules that multiple nations will agree upon to become an international treaty against plastic pollution, including control, taxation, and more on the use of single-use plastics.

According to the economist, countries need to agree collectively on simple long-term solutions because plastic pollution isn’t a problem of one person but affects everyone globally, and it’s a collective thing that will require effort from all players.

The Single-Use Plastics Dilemma in Africa

The continent’s rapid growth has led to an uptake of SUPs for various solutions, including packaging and service ware. These materials, designed for convenience, end up causing severe environmental degradation, often ending up in landfills, water bodies, and open spaces. The negative impacts on wildlife, soil fertility, and water quality are evident, affecting urban and rural communities.

We are now faced with an overwhelming supply of cheaply made plastic, most of it unnecessary. We use plastic for only a few minutes (think of a packet of crisps), but it takes hundreds of years to break down.

Unsurprisingly, communities that historically have wasted very little are now wasting plastic. After all, what can you do with soda bottles, soap sachets, and sweet wrappers? Where should you throw them when you live in an area that lacks basic waste management infrastructure?

According to scientists, as many unique ideas as we have to recycle and reuse this ‘waste,’ there will never be enough to stem the growing tide of new plastic created every minute, adding that there is a need to put a stop to the overproduction of plastic and then figure out what to do with the hundreds of millions of tonnes littering our land and sea.

According to the UN Environment Programme, “one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute” worldwide. Half of these are designed to be thrown away after a single use.

Is there a solution?

The answer is simple: Inaction over plastic pollution is catastrophic, and the consequences are severe in different ways. A 2019 study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal found that an average person eats at least 50,000 microplastic particles annually. Most of these particles were found in rivers, oceans, soil, and air.

Further, the study warned that people who take water only through bottled sources may be ingesting an additional 90,000 microplastics annually, compared to 4,000 microplastics for those who consume only tap water.

However, improving waste management practices can also help us reduce the amount of raw materials generated by recycling (although not eliminating) by managing the production of new resources.

Otherwise, experts allude that by protecting the world’s ecosystems and our general health from plastics, we need to ensure that waste is managed correctly.

This story was compiled by Lina Mwamachi – Sifa Fm, through the help of Africa 21 and partners and data from Infonile and Our World Data.

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