As the world moves to ban various plastics for harming aquatic life, causing air pollution and a surge in respiratory diseases, Africa has been at the forefront of effecting the bans with legislation, tough fines and imprisonment for culprits.

With 127 countries worldwide having instituted legislation that bans single-use plastic bags including manufacture, importing and distribution, 34 of these countries are from Africa, followed by Europe with 29.

From Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco to Kenya, these bans have received full government support and are credited with spawning a recycling revolution that has seen youth and women find innovative ways of turning the plastics that clog drains into everyday products including mattresses, fencing poles, bags and even sunglasses.

Just last year, even Somalian terror group Al Shabaab also instituted a ban on plastic bags in areas it controls. In a statement, it announced that the bags “pose a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike.

The spirited campaign across Africa has been necessitated by the growing concern the bags, the world’s number one consumer product, are having on the environment, the air and the health of its people.

Kenya which according to the United Nations was using up to 100 million bags each year in supermarkets alone, introduced the ban in 2017 and currently has the world’s most punitive penalty where manufacturers, importers, distributors and users are slapped with a $38,000 fine or four year jail term if they flout the legislation. “This is one of the most progressive and successful campaigns the country has ever carried out. It has not only placed the country in the global map, but greatly reduced the death of marine life which was spiralling out of control. The coastal beaches in Kenya were teeming with dead fish and turtles despite them being some of the rarest world over”, said Dorothy Okello an environmental activist.

In Rwanda, one of the African pioneers of the ban in 2008, the zero tolerance on plastic bags which include fines and public shaming has contributed to ridding the streets off the plastic menace and is credited with Kigali having been named Africa’s cleanest city by the United Nations.

And as Africa steps up efforts at ensuring total ban of the plastics, a recent UN Environmental report indicated that these bans are working effectively especially in a continent where waste is often burned.

“The good news is that a growing number of governments are taking action and demonstrating that all nations, whether rich or poor, can become global environmental leaders. Rwanda, a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, is now one of the cleanest nations on earth. Kenya has followed suit, helping clear its iconic national parks and save its cows from an unhealthy diet,” read a section of the report dubbed Single-use plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability.

But even as Africa steps up efforts to tackle the menace, the rest of the world has been hesitant to go that route.

Earlier this year, countries failed to reach a consensus on the timelines to do away with single- use plastics preferring to instead ‘significantly reduce’ their production.

Global giants like United States, Australia and Canada among others do not have national plastic bag regulations. For some US states like California and Hawaii the bans have however been implemented.

In March this year, the EU voted to ban select forms of single use plastics starting from 2021.

With single-use plastics forming 40 per cent of plastics manufactured globally, scientists and researchers continue to sound the alarm over the devastating effects they continue to pose.

It is for example estimated that some five trillion plastic pieces are floating in oceans which makes up 80 per cent of all litter in these water bodies costing approximately $8 billion in damages to marine ecosystems worldwide.

If the current trend continues, the dumping of these plastics will see oceans holding more litter than fish by 2050, with 99 per cent of seabirds ingesting the plastic. This even as more studies show that there will be 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic litter in the environment by the same year. “This is the greatest catastrophe of our time and will sink an entire generation and its ecosystem if left unchecked. It is encouraging to see Africa is taking note and doing something about it,” said Dorothy.


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