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Not fantastic: Life of plastic in Africa revealed as churches ask global leaders 'Can you fix it?'

by Premier Journalist

Every minute, enough plastic waste to cover a football pitch is openly dumped or burnt in Sub Saharan Africa.  That's the finding in new analysis by relief agency Tearfund.  The charity says church leaders across Africa have written to their governments, asking for urgent action, as they prepare for UN plastics negotiations in Kenya this weekend. 

Rich Gower, senior economist at Tearfund, tells Premier: "The trajectory that we're on as a planet, in terms of plastic use, is not a good one, and I think it's important to be honest.  Plastic use is spiralling out of control in many places. In Africa, which is the focus of these figures we've just released, plastic use is growing faster there than in any other parts of the world."

Statistics from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) suggesting that if nothing changes, the region will produce almost six times more plastic waste by 2060 than it did in 2019. 

But Gower says there is hope, in part because the growing concern around plastic pollution is creating positive pressure: "That's resulted in an opportunity for change.  I think action is being taken, and we're maybe starting to bend the curve. But there's a lot of bending that needs to happen to get it onto a safe trajectory."

The third stage of the UN plastics treaty negotiations are taking place in Nairobi, Kenya from 13 to 19 November. 

A global treaty could be the first legally-binding global agreement on plastic pollution, and could help close the pollution gap impacting the lives of billions of people around the world.  If the talks go well, it could come into force as soon as 2025. 

Gower says: “The signs of environmental breakdown are all around us, but this treaty has the potential to curb the plastics crisis and improve the lives of billions of people. Negotiators should feel the weight of the world's hopes on their shoulders as they meet in Nairobi."

Reverend Dennis Nthenge, chaplain to the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya said: “It is crucial this treaty delivers real change for communities across Africa, and especially for those living in poverty who are most impacted by the plastic pollution crisis.” 

Tearfund partner and campaigner Dr Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, from Malawi, who will be at the negotiations, added: “While these negotiations continue, the health of people in Malawi and across Africa is being impacted by plastic pollution every day.

“In Malawi, we see burning and dumping of plastic waste everyday, harming people’s health. These negotiations have shown that change is coming, but it will not come easily. There are some who profit from this plastic crisis and want to keep ambition as low as possible.” 

Gower tells Premier these are really critical talks. "Representatives from more than 150 countries are going to be there, and it's crucial that they grasp the nettle and agree."  He's hoping they'll commit to big reductions in plastic production, and that better working conditions for waste pickers will be at the heart of the treaty.

He's asking people to pray for a positive outcome: "We'd love people to be praying for the negotiators in Kenya. It's prayer that's got us this far, and we need more prayer to see this through."

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