social justice waste

Africa is not a dumpster

Guest post from the Kenya Environmental Activists Network. Adapted with permission from the open letter by Ms Passy Amayo and Mr Kaluki Paul Mutuku.

We write from Kenya in solidarity with our peers across the globe to demand urgent action to tackle the climate and environmental crises, and joined the Global Climate Strike on Friday 25 September 2020.

It has come to our attention that the American Chemistry Council wants the upcoming US-Kenya Trade deal to allow the export of American plastics to Kenya. This would violate the current nation-wide plastic ban, making our ban one step forward against a thousand steps back to please the American Chemistry Council. The American Chemistry Council believes plastic recycling can avoid the problem of waste, but it makes greater sense simply to free our nation completely from the use of plastic and its waste.

If negotiators for Kenya agree to a bad deal, we will hold them accountable for any resulting damage to the health of Kenyans and our environment. We cannot sit back and watch our national plastic-free ambitions rubbished. We are directly affected by the plastic menace, forced to collect plastic and other harmful waste from our streets and drainages, if only to secure a little income during this COVID-19 period.

Plastic, and its waste, continue to be seen everywhere in Kenya. Behind that waste are the big oil and fossil fuel companies in developed economies who fuel the production of convenient single use plastic products from thin and flimsy carrier bags to bottles, cutlery, poly liners, containers among others. Such products are touted as cheaper, better and recyclable. They are advertised to consumers as both affordable and beneficial.

The reality is very different. In developed economies, many plastic products are used once and then thrown away. Where do they go next? Are they sold as used products? Or burnt as fuel? Or buried? Trade deals between the global north and global south countries offer a cheap solution: send them to developing nations. While only a few benefit from these trade deals, and a huge percentage of the recipient country’s citizenry bear the cost of finding ways to manage the plastic menace in the environment.

Those of us residing in informal settlements can tell you what this really feels like. Sometimes we burn the plastic waste, breathing in harmful carcinogenic pollution which also affects the soil and water around us. Is that fair? Alternatively, we could recycle plastic waste, but our country is not even close to where it is supposed to be in order to play a significant role in recycling plastic waste, not even soft drink plastic bottles.

The period prior to the plastic carrier bag ban in Kenya was a period in which our highways, cities, streets and all settlements were choked with plastic filth, especially those thin and flimsy carrier bags. Many dumpsites were clouded with smoke and stench, often near urban informal settlements. Today, the difference is noticeable and undeniable. We want this to continue and get even better, offering everyone one an environment free from all forms of pollution, including plastic pollution.

We write to express our disbelief and shock at the potential use of the US-Kenya Trade Agreement to lift the plastic ban and increase plastic pollution once more. We call upon all Kenyan decision-makers to ensure that terms to ease the exportation of plastics into Kenya are immediately deleted from the agreement. We further urge them to support Kenya’s plastic-free ambitions as they enter into negotiations with the United State of America.

To our leaders we say: You must lead the way. You must ensure the current and future health of Kenya’s environment and all who live here.

We continue to call on young people to get involved in policy and decision making by speaking to our representatives and stating our positions clearly. We have the power to say NO, and in turn protect our present, and our future from poisonous plastic pollution.

To supporters around the world, please sign our petition and our open letters to the US Embassy and the Ministry of trade. Use the hashtag #AfricaIsNotADumpster to spread the word, and there are more details of the trade deal and its potential effects here.

  • Photo credits: Paul Basweti & Greenpeace Africa

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