*A World Earth Day Report 


Although it is widely reported that Africa contributes just five percent to global plastic pollution index, it is still a disturbing fact because of the threat it poses to economic development and well-being of aquatic species. It is sad to discover that many countries are far behind in enforcing fundamental policies to protect the earth.


According to a 2013 report by World Health Organisation Africa on Plastic pollution, it is discovered that plastic pollution is threatening at least 600 different species of marine wildlife. Findings by WHO showed that almost 90% of seabirds end up eating plastic when they reach out for food. 


The report further shows that Africa has a steady increase in single-use plastic, heightening environmental pollution and health threats due to lack of well-regulated recycle culture.


The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have collaborated to galvanise national efforts to reduce environmental threats to health by  adopting the Libreville Declaration on health and Environment in 2008. 


This effort has aided efforts to conduct several projects aimed at predicting, preventing and managing acute public health effects of climate change in Africa.


Why Plastic pollution is Harmful to Human Health


Plastic pollution has various negative impacts on health in Africa, affecting both human populations and ecosystems. Plastic waste, particularly single-use plastics and microplastics, can contaminate freshwater sources such as rivers, lakes, and groundwater. This pollution can lead to the consumption of microplastics through contaminated drinking water, potentially posing risks to human health. 


Quite frankly, plastic ends up in the food chain. For instance, plastic in our oceans breaks down into smaller fragments known as microplastics, which are ingested by marine organisms. When humans consume seafood contaminated with microplastics, there is a risk of microplastic transfer up the food chain, with potentially severe health consequences. 


Plastics may also contain toxic chemicals, which can leach into the environment and potentially enter the food chain. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals, particularly through the consumption of contaminated food or water, can have adverse health effects, including endocrine disruption, developmental issues and increased cancer risks.


This explains why Earth Day is commemorated as an annual event on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First marked on April 22, 1970, the official theme for 2024 is “Planet vs. Plastics.” Plastic pollution is a global problem that affects our natural world and its biodiversity causing anguish in our environment, health, food security, and economies. According to the UNEP, the world produces between 300–400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, which is equal to or greater than the approximate weight of the entire human population.  Only around 9% of plastic is recycled globally.


Three Leading African Countries in Plastic Pollution 

Top Plastic Polluters in Africa

The statistics show that three African countries are leading the statistics in plastic pollution in the black continent.


  • Egypt

Egypt has been estimated to contribute 43 percent of the total plastic waste that flows into the Mediterranean Sea every year.According to the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, about 4.5 million tons of waste flow into the Nile annually.


The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research also reported that the Nile is one of 10 rivers contributing to 90 percent of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans.


Egypt was the tenth-largest producer of plastic waste in the world in 2010, generating about 5.46 million tons of plastic. 


  • Algeria


Algeria is one of the major consumers of plastic bags globally with 60 to 80% of plastic waste is thrown into nature and the sea.


Algeria is the fifth largest consumer of plastic bags in the world, Boudjema said. Algeria generates an annual volume of 34 million tonnes of waste, which is expected to more than double by 2035, exceeding 70 million tonnes, says the report by an EU-funded website Odysseaplatform.


  • Nigeria


According to the report by Global Plastic Action published on the World Economic Forum Website, about 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated annually in Nigeria making it one of the ten countries globally with the highest contributions to plastic pollution. Unfortunately, over 88% of the plastic waste generated in Nigeria is not recycled. Instead, much of it ends up under the bridges, rivers, lakes, drains, lagoons and the ocean.


Solutions to Plastic Pollution 


From the examples of many European countries like Germany, Luxembourg and Ireland, countries around the coastlines need to urgently move to:


  • Clean Up Oceans

A view of seaside plastic pollution
Credit: AFP

Since the oceans have been transformed into garbage soup by plastic pollution, plastic litter can be removed through corporate and citizen-driven projects with support from the government.


  • Enforce Stronger Policies

There should be more than a slap on the wrist for plastic polluters. Culprit organisations should be fined heavily. Collaborative projects between the government and corporate organisations that use plastic waste should yield practical solutions such as well marked recycle bins, reward for plastic collectors and stiffer penalties for littering.


  • Use Wooden Pegs & Cutlery

Change your personal habits around plastic use. Ensure that you use wooden pegs to hang your clothes. Discard all plastic cutlery in your home.


  • Avoid Single Use of Plastic

Do not burn plastic waste. Ensure you recycle plastic containers in your home. You can use them as flower pots or pen holders. Get creative.


-Written by Yinka Olatunbosun, an art and culture journalist.


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