Environmentalists concerned: will Africa become a new dumping ground for plastic waste?

The world’s strictest ban on plastic bags applies in Kenya. But environmentalists fear that this could change – but that would also have consequences for other countries.

Kenya is a role model in the fight against plastic waste that pollutes Africa . The world’s strictest ban on the use, manufacture and import of plastic bags has been in effect here for three years . But maybe not for much longer: environmentalists fear that Kenya is under pressure to relax its regulations and, even more, to become a key station for the transit of this type of rubbish to other African countries.

Accordingly, the oil industry has asked the US to move Kenya to change its determined stance. The advance of the American Chemistry Council, whose members include larger oil companies, took place by letter to the agency of the US Trade Representative – against the background of negotiations between the US and Kenya on a trade agreement, the first bilateral pact of its kind between the US and Kenya an African country south of the Sahara. It should also serve as a model for other agreements with states in Africa.

This importance also played a role in bringing about the visit of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to the White House last February. US President Donald Trump has seldom met an African head of state there.

The letter from the American Chemistry Council, which the AP news agency saw, was dated April 28th. In it, the panel’s director of international trade, Ed Brzytwa, called on the US and Kenya to ban restrictions on “the production or use of chemicals and plastics” both domestically and in their cross-border trade.

“We expect Kenya in the future to become a hub for the supply of other markets in Africa with US-made chemicals and plastics,” the letter continues, which was first made known by the Unearthed group, a branch of the environmental organization Greenpeace . In June, the Chemistry Council also repeated the request in a hearing where the public could comment.

Environmentally friendly waste management

China banned most plastic waste imports in 2018, forcing companies to find new dump locations. But more and more other countries – including in Africa – also refuse to pick up the garbage. Plastic waste intended for recycling is piled up on heaps in Kenyan cities.

Oil companies, meanwhile, are under increasing pressure as more countries like Kenya work towards moving away from fossil fuels for their energy supply.

In a statement to the AP news agency, the Chemicals Council stressed that it is well aware that “a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Kenya does not override Kenya’s domestic approach to plastic waste or its international obligations under the Basel Agreement is undermined “.

The committee was referring to a global agreement on environmentally friendly waste management, which is intended to make it significantly more difficult to transport plastic waste to poorer countries. Almost 190 states have joined, but not the US.

AP requests to the US Trade Representative’s office for comment went unanswered, and Kenya did not respond. In a US review of the negotiating goals in May, one point cited was the creation of rules “to ensure that Kenya does not waive or deviate from protective measures under environmental laws in order to promote trade or investment”.

Limitations of plastic

Kenya banned plastic bags in 2017, inspiring other African countries with roads, waterways and even trees full of tattered bags to take similar measures. The thought that the state could weaken or lift its ban under pressure from the US or the oil industry has upset the vibrant community of environmentalists in the country – all the more since further progress has now been made: Kenya has this year too Banned other single-use plastic products such as bottles from beaches, national parks, and other protected areas.

“They want Kenya to lift its strict restrictions on plastic, including the plastic bag ban from 2017! NO! ”Tweeted James Wakibia, who at the time had fought hard for the ban on bags and is now committed to ensuring that all East African countries ban“ all unnecessary single-use plastic ”. Any attempts to soften Kenya’s laws would be “outrageous and irresponsible”, says Inger Andersen from the UN environmental program Unep, based in Kenya.

According to a 2018 study by the organization, there was some sort of regulation regarding plastic bags in 127 countries at the time. 37 of these states were in Africa, which made this region a world leader, as the UN says. She particularly points out the sentences of up to four years imprisonment and fines of the equivalent of up to 32,000 euros, which threaten in Kenya in the event of violations.

The state put the negotiations with the USA on hold in the spring because of the corona pandemic, and they finally started in July. The Chemicals Council says it doesn’t know whether the US Trade Representative’s office has considered its recommendations.

In any case, Griffins Ochieng, director of the Center for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya, strongly warns that any attempt to change plastic laws would be dangerous. “Africa looks like a new garbage dump,” he says. “We won’t allow that.”

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