Plastic Free July®: How Can We Challenge Plastic Use in Africa?

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It is well known that the production and consumption of plastic – across the globe – is wreaking serious havoc upon the environment. Plastic Free July® is a key initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation; beginning in 2011 as an ongoing campaign aimed at combatting the use of plastic, while providing solutions for a future without plastic. Every July,  this important movement is highlighted. As part of our support for this amazing initiative, we had a courageous conversation with Climate and Energy Campaigner Thandile Chiyavanhu. Thandile is a custodian of environmental issues, providing answers pertaining to our questions around plastic legislation in South Africa. How you can sign their petition here and a range of great insight. We hope this conversations will encourage you to question the area you live in and assist in the fight against harming our beautiful planet.

Plastic waste in water

Thandile Chiyavanhu Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace
Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaigner Thandile Chiyavanhu

Why is it important to drive a plastic-free landscape, especially in the context of Africa?

Plastic is a public health threat, studies are increasingly showing how bad it is for our health, and how we are exposed to it through ingesting microplastics in our food and water. Plastic lasts forever, it’s concerning to think we are consuming this product and what impact it may potentially have on our health.  But what is worse is that it is communities that are most vulnerable, which usually comprise of people of colour, are impacted the waste by plastic. Whether it be the air population they are exposed to by working in production plants and incineration plants, or the heightened marketing of, mostly, poor plastic package in low-income communities. It is a mess, in every sense.

Are there any African countries that are advancing this pursuit?

Yes, most certainly! But, South Africa isn’t one of them. Instead, they are trying to profit off of the plastic pollution crisis, if anything. Countries like Rwanda and Kenya, however, have taken drastic and necessary steps in curbing plastic consumption. They have some of the most stringent plastic regulations in the world – and it shows in the improvement of their natural environments. These countries have recognised that the profits associated with the trade of plastic can never measure up to the cost of the public health threats posed by plastic and acted accordingly to safeguard the health of their people.  It’s very exciting that  Ghana is championing the proposed Global Plastic Treaty, and that West African leaders are talking about a regional plastic ban by 2025. South Africa, however, remains unconcerned about the improvements to quality of life South Africans could potentially enjoy with the adoption of robust plastic ban .

How can someone join or be a part of the Plastic campaign with Greenpeace?

We are in desperate need of support in trying to persuade the South African government to change its stance on the Global Plastic Treaty. Leaked documents suggest that they are planning to reject the treaty at the ministerial meeting to discuss the treaty scheduled for September. Hopefully, if we get a large enough number of people, they will succumb to the pressure and join the effort. You can sign our petition here.

Are you providing any alternative ideas in place of plastic waste?

The only real way to move away from plastic is for corporations to adopt reuse and refill models. In Africa, we’ve done so for decades before this consumerist culture was imposed on us. There was a time when this was the mainstay; a time when you purchased a bottle of Coke in glass and you would return that bottle in exchange for a refill; or we used reusable diapers or menstrual products.  For us, it’s about reclaiming our roots, and perhaps the world can learn something from it. There are definitely retailers that are testing our refill stations and other sustainable distribution models, but we need them to ramp up efforts, and introduce this model into our national retailers. These existing options can be rather expensive, but there are many affordable ways to include these practices into your life. There are many cultural practices that are intrinsically zero-waste and we need to re-claim those practices, quickly. It is already and emergency situation. We don’t have time to waste

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