JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Environmentalists are gathering in South Africa this week to pressure governments and companies to cut plastic production as it harms the continent’s environment.
The conference, “Towards Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa”, to be held until Friday in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), South Africa, will bring together academics and experts on the plastics industry and its impacts on the environment. continent, the organizers said.
The participants will focus on the actions needed to prevent plastic from ruining Africa’s land and seas, say organizers, the African Marine Waste Network. The conference follows the United Nations Environmental Assembly’s resolution to develop a legally binding treaty on plastic waste by 2024.
Despite a growing recycling industry, plastic waste is piling up in Africa’s landfills, clogging stormwater drainage systems and polluting rivers and oceans.
Africa has an average waste collection rate of 55%, but only 4% of it is recycled, according to a report by the UN and the Center for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.
This is well short of the African Union’s target for the continent’s cities to recycle at least 50% of their waste by next year.
In Johannesburg – South Africa’s most populous city with more than 6 million inhabitants – landfills are quickly reaching capacity. The municipality collects up to 40,000 tons of general waste, including plastic, each month, according to waste disposal agency Pikitup.
The city’s four landfills will be full in three years, forcing them to find more landfills, officials say.
“Plastic is not biodegradable… so it lasts a very long time. It eats up our landfill space and is very difficult to compact,” said Pikitup spokesman Muzi Mkhwanazi.
In 2018, the city required residents to separate plastic from other waste, but not many do.
Johannesburg’s largest landfill site in Turffontein is bustling with activity as garbage trucks drop off rubbish and garbage collectors spread across the area to pick plastic, cardboard, bottles and wood for sale to recyclers. The rest is crushed and then covered by new deliveries of waste.
Thousands of freelance garbage collectors work both on the streets of the sprawling metropolis and in the landfill. They sort different types of waste into what they can sell to recyclers to support themselves. Others have paid work at recycling centers.
Agnes Hlungwani says she supports her family by sorting plastic waste at Whole Earth Recycling’s facility. When her husband died in 2006, sorting trash was one of the few types of work she could get, she said.
“I sent my children to school and took care of myself. My husband is gone, but the kids are grown now, all thanks to this job,” says Hlungwani.
Waste activist Musa Chamane told The Associated Press that the conference is needed to put pressure on decision-makers in businesses, governments and municipalities to reduce plastic waste.
Carmen Jordaan, manager of Whole Earth Recycling, said campaigns are needed to urge industries and ordinary residents to reduce plastic waste.
“Although sorting is done in the landfill, this is not ideal because it is mixed with food waste, medical waste and that is not hygienic,” she said. “If we can stop using non-recyclable plastics in our packaging materials and encourage more people to start recycling, we will have a better recycling rate.”
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