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Updated Apr 21, 2020

Though contributing little to the total amount of single-use plastic that’s generated globally, developing countries in Africa have become dumping grounds for plastic waste from the West. In countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, waste picking forms a big part of the urban informal economy. At garbage dumps, the poorest of residents sift through mountains of waste, picking out bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and other recyclable plastic, for which they earn as little as 5 cents per kilogram in Kenya.

Even with these armies of garbage pickers, their impact on plastic waste reduction is negligible. Of the roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste produced between the 1950s—when mass production began—and 2015, only 9 percent had been recycled, according to a study published in Science Advances in 2017.


Incinerating plastic releases toxic gases into the atmosphere.


The dangers of plastic for the environment and public health have been well documented. The alternative to plastic waste that does not get recycled or ends up in landfills is incineration, which releases toxic gases into the atmosphere and poses a threat to human and animal health.

A man walks past a excavator moving a heap of garbage into a truck in the suburb of Shauri Moyo, in Nairobi, on November 25, 2019. SIMON MAINA / AFP
A man walks past a bulldozer scooping up garbage in the suburb of Shauri Moyo, Nairobi, Kenya. (Simon Maina / AFP)

Plastic Bans vs Higher Output

In an effort to mitigate this, African countries have passed some of the most stringent legislations against single-use plastics, including bans on plastic bags. This has put them at odds with large multinational corporations, including Coca-Cola, which produces the majority of plastic trash in Africa, and Unilever.

Plastic is made from oil and natural gas, and their byproducts. And since oil producers have been facing reduced demand for fuels, they have been increasing their output of plastic.

Until our dependency on fossil fuels is massively curtailed, developing nations will continue to suffer the consequences of consumerism in rich countries.

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