Organizers of the African Marine Waste Network say participants are focusing on the steps needed to stop plastics from destroying African land and oceans. The conference follows a resolution by the UN Environment Council to develop a legally binding treaty on plastic waste by 2024.
Despite the growing recycling industry, landfill sites in Africa are accumulating plastic waste, clogging stormwater drainage systems and polluting rivers and oceans.
According to the UN and South Africa’s Center for Scientific and Industrial Research, Africa’s average waste collection rate is 55% but only 4% of it is recycled.
This is far less than the African Union’s goal for the continent’s cities to recycle at least 50% of their waste by next year.
Landfill sites in Johannesburg – South Africa’s most populous city with over 6 million people – are rapidly reaching capacity. The municipality collects 40,000 tons of general waste, including plastic, every month, according to its waste management agency Pikitup.
The city’s four landfill sites will be completed in three years, forcing them to look for more landfill sites, officials say.
“Plastic is not biodegradable … so it survives a long time. It eats up our landfill space and is very difficult to compact, ”said Muzi Makhwanaji, a spokesman for Pikitup.
In 2018 the city made it mandatory for residents to separate plastic from other wastes, but many are not practicing it.
Johannesburg’s largest landfill site in Turfentaine is a hive of activity because waste trucks dump garbage and waste pickers scatter across the area to extract plastic, cardboard, bottles and wood that can be sold to recyclers. The rest is crushed and then covered by a new distribution of waste.
Thousands of freelance waste pickers work on vast metropolitan streets as well as landfill sites. To make a living, they sort out what they can sell to recyclers. Others have found employment in recycling centers.
Agnes Hlungwani says she is supporting her family by sorting out plastic waste at the entire Earth Recycling Plant. She said that when her husband died in 2006, her only job was to sort the waste.
“I have sent my children to school and I have supported myself. My husband is no longer around, but the children have grown up now, all because of this job, ”said Hlungwani.
Waste campaigner Musa Chaman told The Associated Press that the conference was necessary to put pressure on business, government and municipal decision-makers to reduce plastic waste.
Whole Earth Recycling Manager Carmen Jordan says campaigns are needed to put pressure on the industry and the general public to reduce plastic waste.
“Although landfill is picked, it is not ideal because it is mixed with food waste, medical waste and it is not healthy,” he said. “If we can stop using non-recyclable plastics in our packaging materials and encourage more people to start recycling, our recycling rate will be even better.”