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136 organisations call on leaders to stop waste colonialism in Africa

Recent research from the Basel Action Network shows evidence of 136 000 kilograms of PVC waste exported from the US to Nigeria. Picture: Schäferle/Pixabay

Recent research from the Basel Action Network shows evidence of 136 000 kilograms of PVC waste exported from the US to Nigeria. Picture: Schäferle/Pixabay

Published Jun 15, 2022


Dominic Naidoo

According to the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Africa, our continent still battles with different forms of colonialism, it continues to manifest itself in the form of waste trade that allows for the importation of toxic and non-recyclable waste into the African continent, eroding the foundations of liberty and environmental justice.

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Civil society organisations presented a letter, signed by 136 organisations, at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland, during the ‘Basel Plastics Amendments First Year Report Card’, a side event organised by the Basel Action Network.

The letter calls on African leaders to respond to this threat by enforcing new and existing legislation that protects the rights of all Africans to a safe, clean, and healthy environment.

It further calls upon all world leaders to take a stand against waste colonialism in Africa and demands that Global North exporting countries cease this unjust practice.

Recent research from the Basel Action Network shows evidence of 136 000 kilograms of PVC waste exported from the US to Nigeria.

Weyinmi Okotie, representing the Green Knowledge Foundation (GKF) in Nigeria, said: “Nigeria is already overwhelmed with plastic waste, we barely have enough facilities to recycle internally generated plastics in Nigeria, more so, PVCs are toxic, which compounds the problem.

"I'm urging the Federal Government of Nigeria to sign the Bamako convention on toxic waste, as it will be an effective legal tool in stemming the importation of toxic waste into Africa.”

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In a press statement, Carissa Marnce of GAIA Africa stated: “For Africa to be protected from waste trade, all parties need to ratify and implement the Basel Ban Amendment of the Basel Convention.

“This prohibits the exports of all hazardous waste covered by the Convention intended for final disposal, reuse, recycling, and recovery from OECD to non-OECD countries.

“Furthermore, African countries need to foster greater ownership of the Bamako Convention, which is the regional trans-boundary waste instrument.

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“This prohibits the import of hazardous waste into Africa. To date, the Bamako Convention has 29 Parties of 54 African Union countries, which is a missed opportunity for the region to take positive strides toward stopping and fighting waste colonialism on the continent.”

Jim Puckett, director of the Basel Action Network, said: “Every day, illegal exports of waste flow into Africa, violating the Basel and Bamako Conventions, and yet exporting countries and African countries are not diligently enforcing these treaty obligations. Only when the exporters and importers are prosecuted and their shipments returned at their cost, will we see an end to this ugly form of trade.”

Waste colonialism encourages the introduction of end-of-pipe technological ‘fixes’, to deal with the exponential rise of waste.

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These are false solutions that create severe health implications for workers, communities, and the environment by generating significant amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic air pollutants, highly toxic ash, and other potentially hazardous residues.

This includes waste incineration, chemical recycling, plastics-to-fuel or plastic-to-chemical processes, pyrolysis and gasification.

Sirine Rached, Global Plastics Policy Coordinator for GAIA, said that “ensuring that countries manage their waste is the best way to prevent global environmental injustice." It is also essential for countries to truly come to terms with their waste footprint, rather than ship it off in containers.

Once countries fully realise the absurdity of wasting precious materials and resources, harming the planet, our climate, and human health in the process, they will be ready to shift to local zero waste economies centred around reuse, repair, and composting of bio-waste.

Safe, toxic-free recycling also has an important role in zero waste economies, though it is more challenging for plastics than for metals, glass, and paper.