Plastic waste pollution in the ocean: What African countries are doing

Dr. Claudia Winterstein welcomed all participants of the video conference. She then delivered her welcoming address and a brief introduction. She stated that “nearly 200 million tonnes of municipal waste are generated on the African continent annually”, with Ghana generating 1 million. Of this, only 2-5% is recycled. In Ghana, 23% also ends up in the sea. The waste collection rate is only 55% all over the African continent.

Dr. Winterstein briefly introduced all the guest speakers before handing over to the moderator; Samuel Boakye Opoku, Founder of Start.Up Lounge Africa, which is building an online platform, Kutana Africa, to provide African startups the opportunity to be visible and connect with other startups and SMEs across Africa.

The guest speakers were introduced as follows:

Oliver Boachie, Special Advisor to the Minister of Environment, Science Technology and Innovation (MESTI) since 2016. In his role, he supports and advises the minister in developing government policies to address environmental challenges and how to apply science, technology, and innovation for national development.

Dr. Sonja Sagmeister-Brandner, Co-founder and Executive Director of Amabo GmbH

Joshua Amponsem Founder of GAYO Ghana

Mr. Oliver Boachie focused his presentation on the initiatives that Ghana is taking to address the sound management of plastics in Ghana, and collaborations with both regional and global partners to address the menace of plastics pollution.

Mr. Boachie mentioned that marine litter has become a global pandemic which needs to be addressed. According to him, an estimated 350 million metric tons of plastic was produced in 2007, which is expected to double by 2040. The plastic industry is currently valued at up to 25 billion US Dollars. There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if we continue with business as usual. He also noted that plastic moves freely in nature, crossing borders and natural boundaries. It is spread through ocean currents and the export and import of plastic products, which turns some countries into dumping sites for unrecyclable plastics.

Mr. Boachie posited that to address the plastic menace, a global approach must be adopted. He first suggested a global agreement with a legally binding framework. The second solution he proposed was to set up a global centre for technology and innovation to facilitate practical and innovative solutions. He mentioned the need for regionally specific frameworks within this global agreement and also stressed the need for partnerships amongst all stakeholders and creating awareness through education.

According to Mr. Boachie, Ghana released its National Plastic Management policy in 2018, which gained a great deal of global attention, after which the country was approached by the World Economic Forum (WEF) through the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP). Ghana then became the second country, after Indonesia, to commit to the National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) framework which falls under the Global Plastic Action Partnership. Based on the NPAP model, a project and investment roadmap has been developed to ensure zero plastic waste and job creation. He also mentioned that a third outcome for the NPAP is the development of an EPR scheme which is funded by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany through the German Development Corporation (GIZ) supported by the government of the Netherlands. Other projects like the Marine Litter Project and the Waste Recovery Platform are practical examples of what is happening on the ground, all of which are funded by different donor agencies. Mr. Boachie finished by mentioning some partnerships with Coca-Cola, SAP and countries like Germany and Ecuador that are already underway. He ended by inviting German private companies to come in and provide the technical support and investments to help address the issue of plastic pollution in African countries.

Dr. Sagmeister-Brandner agreed with Mr. Boachie on the lack of a good logistics infrastructure being a challenge in tackling plastic pollution. She also mentioned that a second challenge faced by Amabo in Cameroon is the lack of support from communities during plastic waste collection for recycling. According to her, in Duala, the local communities want to charge them for the plastic they collect. She speculated that there was a lack of education in these communities, with communities not understanding the need to hand over their waste for free to keep their environment clean and healthy.

According to Dr. Sagmeister-Brandner, Amabo was the idea of a Cameroon-born taxi driver whom she met in Vienna. The driver showed her some pictures of polluted rivers and water bodies in Cameroon. The company then imported recycling machines into Cameroon so that the plastic waste does not end up in the rivers and is instead recycled into durable roofing tiles. Amabo begun in Austria and is co-funded by the Austrian development Agency and some other private investors, according to Dr. Sagmeister-Brandner. They are currently working with an Austrian research institution to develop educational programmes focused on the local communities they work in. In concluding, Dr. Sagmeister-Brandner mentioned that the next big step for Amabo will be to implement a plastic waste collection system. This would allow communities to send their plastic waste to different collection points in order to facilitate the collection process, which according to her, is the main focus at the moment.

Mr. Amponsem began by mentioning his appointment by the GPAP as a plastic action champion and his future involvement with the NPAP in Ghana. Mr. Amponsem explained the work of GAYO Ghana through their Sustainable Community Project, which is currently ongoing. According to him, this project allows GAYO to develop a circular economy model for treating waste in general, including plastic waste. The model was first piloted in Cape Coast which is the capital city of the Central Region in Ghana. He explained in detail the process of plastic waste collection, distribution (by using a tricycle) then recycling or upcycling. Mr. Amponsem advised Dr. Sagmeister-Brandner to consider an incentive-based approach during plastic waste collection in communities to address the challenges she faced in Cameroon. Concluding his presentation, Mr. Amponsem stressed the importance of involving the informal sector in the entire value chain to ensure continuity of piloted solutions.

In the panel discussion, Mr. Boachie gave an example of a Ghanaian startup which is also producing construction materials from plastic waste and has a large supply of plastic waste. He further explained that it may be that for some poor communities, members of the community do not have an environment-first mindset.

Dr. Sagmeister-Brandner also stressed on the need for educating young children in schools about plastic waste pollution so that this education is carried home to parents and on. Which Mr. Boachie agreed to, and recommended an approach that capture the short, medium term and long-term impacts of plastic pollution. He also mentioned that in Ghana such level of education and action is already in place in schools especially.

There was a question from one of the listeners on the existence of a reward or buy-back system in any African country. Mr. Boachie responded by agreeing to the need for such a system and cautioned that it would work best in a formalised system. He gave an example of big companies like Coca-Cola initiating this with the shopping malls to allow for this buy-back system to work effectively.

Dr. Sagmeister-Brandner was asked to speak about any infrastructural challenges faced by Amabo in Cameroon. She mentioned that formalization and structuring of the operations of informal players is key for their operations, an example are tricycle drivers which needed to be formally employed or engaged by the municipal assemblies.

In concluding, Mr. Samuel Boakye Opoku mentioned that Start.Up Lounge Africa together with GAYO Ghana are developing a Climate Action Innovation Challenge (#caic). #CAIC will be a 2-month virtual innovation program with the aim of identifying young talents on the African continent (starting from Ghana) to build innovative solutions towards climate adaptation for their communities. All interested partners can get in touch with him. Dr. Winterstein ended the conference by thanking all speakers and guests for joining in and invited everyone for the next video conference.