Plastic Waste: Science-Art Initiatives as Key to Cleaner Africa


It is without doubt that there is urgent need for sustainable plastic waste management in Africa. Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa have been listed as top contributors of plastic waste contamination in the oceans. Plastic waste pollution is hazardous to humans and their environments. Not only does its improper disposal creates a breeding ground for various diseases pathogens, the non-biodegradable used as landfills contaminate the ground and when incinerated pollutes the air and impacts the climate negatively.

Thus plastic waste crisis does call for urgent action on mitigating initiatives and solution to stem and curb the disastrous consequence of the ill management of plastic waste that is enveloping the continent and indeed the globe.

According to the World Economic Forum one of the ways to eliminate plastic waste and pollution in the environment is through sustainable production and consumption of plastics. WEF highlighted the focus areas as waste prevention, alternative materials and product design, waste management and recovery. Recycling plays a huge role in all of these. Recycling is often referred to as the process of collecting and converting plastic waste to reusable forms perceived to be the most effective and sustainable form of plastic waste management.

Some of the initiators they showcased have been impactful in using science-based initiatives to address the plastic waste pollution. Making environmentally sustainable bricks from recycled plastic waste and clay, reusable packaging, a redeemable incentive-based system for recycled plastics are some of the plastic waste pollution mitigation processes being championed by the WEF. In Ghana a company known as Netplast converts plastic waste into pavement blocks. The plastic waste is collected and shredded  into fine threads and mixed with sand. The product is a plastic-plit used for road construction and repair.

Another science initiative that can aid plastic waste management and foster recycling culture is the building of reuseable packaging and cleaning facility. This facility according to WEF would receive, soak, de-label, wash, clean, dry, inspect, scan, stack and package the plastic for distribution.

However, curbing plastic waste require a multi-dimentional approach according to researchers from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. They noted that arts can be used as a tool to synthesize and convey complex scientific information. The Unites States Environmental Protection Agency also noted that artists have been using recycling as a means of transforming discarded materials into raw materials that can be used for other valuables thus achieving a cleaner and healthier environment. 

Recycled Art is a term that has been integrated into the world of contemporary art. It has been described as creative work made from discarded materials that once had previous use. This art practice is said to be popular with contemporary artists whose works have found their themes in sustainability and environmental activism. They highlight viewpoints on less wasteful behaviour and use artworks made from plastics to highlight the problems caused by its environmental pollution and how to bring about change.

An African artist,  El Anatsui uses materials from plastic wastes and the likes to create artworks that have been described as labour intensive and highlight how people from poorer nations recycle as a matter of necessity. His themes revolve around consumption, transformation and environment. 

Adeyemi Emmanual, a Nigerian visual artist has a line of bags called ECO made out of plastic waste. He makes art pieces using plastic bags and other recyclable products.

Wearable arts have also been made from plastic waste such as plastic straws and trash bags. Origomu according to Wikipedia is a movement that originated from New York by a Chilean artist Tatiana Pages and it is the practice of recycling plastic wastes into wearable art. The word Origomu found its root from the Japanese word Ori which means folding and gomu which means rubber. Origomu necklaces techniques have been taught in workshops to low-income women and the objective is to connect art and fashion with environmental awareness.

As Africa continues in its quest to reduce plastic waste pollution, ensuring that science-art initiatives take the front seat in the campaign drive is not only crucial but also provide guidelines on how to experiment more with the plastic waste and create an attitude change in consumers and users of plastic products

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