69 Individuals and 136 Organizations Call on Leaders To Stop Illegal U.S. Export of Waste to Africa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 22 JUNE, 2022

Civil society organizations, including the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Break Free from Plastic, are calling on leaders in the U.S. and Africa to stop waste colonialism—the illegal importing of waste from countries in the Global North to African nations already impacted by the waste and climate crises. 

Their demand letter was first introduced at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland, the first of a series of negotiations following the March adoption at UNEA-5 of a global, legally-binding treaty addressing the full lifecycle of plastics.

The U.S. is one of only three countries that have not ratified the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste from OECD countries (primarily wealthier nations) to non-OECD countries (primarily low-income countries in the Global South). Recent research from the Basel Action Network found that U.S. ports exported 150 tons of PVC waste to Nigeria in 2021, in violation of the Convention. Many of the exporting ports are located in environmental justice communities, which like their counterparts in Africa are impacted by the waste and climate crises. 

“Whatever waste is not burned in our communities is being illegally sent to relatives and grassroots partners in the global South,” says Chris Tandazo, Community Connections Program Coordinator at New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. “Fighting for waste justice here would mean waste justice for communities in the Global South. We cannot allow the white supremacist colonial practice of dumping waste in low-income and communities of color to continue. We will continue to organize against polluting industries at home, and globally.”

Rather than stopping plastic pollution at its source, waste colonialism encourages waste management approaches 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”, plastic-to-fuel or plastic-to-chemical processes, pyrolysis, and gasification.

“Colonialism is alive and fully functioning in the ways that waste, toxicants, and end-of-life products produced by and for overdeveloped societies move to Indigenous lands,” says Dr. Max Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) at Memorial University, Canada. “Without access to other people’s lands and waters, the economic systems of overdeveloped countries simply don’t work. This assumed access to other’s lands and waters is colonialism.”

“Nigeria is already overwhelmed with plastic waste—we barely have enough facilities to recycle internally generated plastics in Nigeria,” says Weyinmi Okotie, Intervention Officer of Green Knowledge Foundation (GKF) Nigeria. “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 wastes into Africa.”  

“Ensuring that countries manage their own 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 shipping it off in containers. Once countries fully realize the absurdity of wasting precious materials and resources, harming the planet, our climate, and human health in the process, they become ready to shift to local zero waste economies centered around reuse, repair and composting of bio-waste,” says Sirine Rached, Global Plastics Policy Coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). 

Media Contact:

Zoë Beery, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative
zoe@no-burn.org

For more information, see no-burn.org/stopwastecolonialism. 

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Contact

Claire Arkin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), claire@no-burn.org 

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Kenya Waste Pickers, in Nairobi, at  Dandora Dumpsite (2022)

The term decolonisation describes the process of indigenous people achieving sovereignty over their land, culture, political and economic systems. African countries have largely achieved political independence from colonial powers, and have attempted to dismantle political systems and symbols of oppression. Sadly, in the 21st century, we are facing a new wave of neo-colonialism from Multinational Corporations. 

Colonial settler objectives are rooted in principles of gaining control and exploiting indigenous territories. Likewise, corporations have taken over public space, destroyed consumer choice and displaced individuals from their traditional mechanisms of subsistence. 

In the waste sector, colonialism is evident in several ways. It can be described as the export of waste from economically powerful countries to lower-income countries, where there is a clear lack of infrastructure to manage problematic waste streams. This is further compounded by the double standards that corporates have by sending cheap, single-use products to African countries- under the guise of development while boasting effective sustainable waste management practices where they operate in the Global North. Petrochemical plants which are part of the plastic production process are often placed in poorer communities at the expense of their health and wellbeing. Waste colonialism is also evident when corporations propose false solutions like Waste-To-Energy incineration (WTE), which disregards and will displace waste pickers and their contribution to the local economy. Fundamentally, these practices of waste colonialism treat people as disposable and that is unacceptable.

In Ghana, a German company McDavid Green Solutions has proposed to construct a facility in the Ashanti region.3  Waste workers in Ghana have helped increase waste management services across the 261 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to 80%, across the country.4 A facility like this risks displacing waste workers who are integral to the country’s waste management system. Since there is a high level of organic waste in the African waste stream, in order to meet the quotas of waste needed to be burnt to make incinerators financially feasible, it would need recyclable materials to be burnt as well.

The way forward |

We need African governments to:

  • Uphold existing legislation like the Basel and Bamako conventions, which prohibit the illegal exportation of waste from economically powerful countries. 
  • Invest in the ongoing discussions around a global plastic treaty, and ensure this mandate reflects the local plastic pollution realities within the region and attempts are made to address the problems of plastic across its entire value chain with significant emphasis on slowing down production.
  • Avoid false solutions like WTE, and rather empower individuals with local solutions to waste management by adopting zero waste practices. 

Last year we commemorated  Africa Day on the 25 May 2021, by releasing a solidarity video on Waste Colonialism.  This year we continued creating awareness on the different impacts and forms of waste colonialism by holding an online meeting with our African member organisations, with presentations from expert speakers. In addition to the online meeting, we developed a sign-on letter on waste colonialism directed to African government, which was launched on 01 June 2022.  

To quote Griffins Ochieng, director of the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya: “When waste is within your boundaries, it is your responsibility to deal with it, and assess how you manage this waste. You don’t export this to other countries to live with your problem.”

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Dandora Landfill Site in Nairobi Kenya.

Nipe Fagio in collaboration with Bio Vision Africa in Uganda, Global Initiative for Environment & Reconciliation in Rwanda, and the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya, recently released an investigative report on the illegal trade and smuggling of plastic bags in the East African Community. The report analyses the state of single-use plastic bags in four countries and examines the trade and flow of plastic carrier bags, which have been fully banned in Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda, but are still found in the markets and on the streets.

Currently, the state of plastic pollution in East African countries can be described as one where countries are struggling with increasing amounts of single-use plastics that invade the markets and consequently the environment and waterways. Waste management systems are insufficient to handle the single-use plastic produced and most of the single-use plastic cannot be recycled locally, increasing the environmental harm.

Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania have implemented legislation to restrict single-use plastics. In the case of Rwanda, the legislation is comprehensive, restricting several kinds of single-use plastics. In the case of Kenya, single-use plastic carrier bags have been banned and other kinds of plastic restricted. In Tanzania, plastic carrier bags have been banned as well as plastic bottle seals, while Uganda is still grappling with effective ways to enforce its laws on plastic. 

Despite these bans on single-use plastic carrier bags, cross-border smuggling of these plastic bags is still taking place. 

“There is a need to increase knowledge on the reasons why the restrictions are in place and public campaigns, as well as incentives, for the use of reusable alternatives. Beyond that, the lack of harmonisation of the national legislations is necessary to impose regional restrictions that will make fiscalisation easier, and also prevent products produced in one country from migrating to neighbouring countries”, said Ana Le Rocha, director of Nipe Fagio. 

The report makes several recommendations to curb this illegal trade, this includes:

  • Dis-incentivising the smugglers;
  • Handling corruption problems;
  • Reducing consumption through awareness and education;
  • Sourcing sustainable packaging alternatives;
  • Finance research and locally-sourced alternative packaging;
  • Better waste management practices;
  • Better stakeholder engagements and collaboration in decision making at all levels;
  • A move towards a total ban;
  • Regional and international cooperation;
  • Strengthening surveillance of lawbreakers and empowering implementing bodies;
  • Harmonize regulations across the EAC and enhance regional cooperation.

Furthermore, East Africa has the potential to become the first single-use plastic-free region in the world. The success of plastic restrictions in Rwanda and the current restrictions in Kenya and Tanzania are global examples of well-implemented policies. The harmonisation of the national laws by bringing countries with less strict laws closer to countries with more strict laws, will increase the implementation rates, ease oversight and increase the effectiveness of the legislations.

The four East African organisations have also launched a petition calling on the Secretary-General, East African Community (EAC) to harmonise the use of single-use plastics in the East African Community. Sign the petition here to support their cause!

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Association Zéro Déchet Sénégal was formally established in March 2018, when it opened its first branch in the capital city Dakar. The organisation’s top objective is to reduce waste and wastefulness by addressing the root cause of waste production and improving the reuse of what is produced.

To contribute to addressing the waste management issues across the country, Association Zéro Déchet Sénégal decided to open its second branch on the beautiful island of Saint-Louis. Despite the island’s incredible beauty, it also struggles with waste management challenges. 

“Sightseeing in Saint-Louis is very sad, as its banks and beaches are polluted with all kinds of waste. The island also has a technical landfill centre in Gandon, which is not up to standard,” said Alioune Banda, AZDS Saint-Louis branch coordinator.

The partnership between Association Zéro Déchet Sénégaland Saint-Louis began when young people from the island reached out to the organisation, inspired to address all the waste plaguing their environment. The branch started with a ‘Zero Waste Ambassador’ training at the Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis, followed by two other trainings at the French Institute of Saint-Louis and at the headquarters of the Association for Research Action Development and Environment in Sahel (ARADES).

To further celebrate this partnership, Association Zéro Déchet Sénégal held an official launch event on the 5th of February 2022. The event, which took place in Hub Nord by Jokkolabs, Rte de Khor, Saint-Louis, saw artists, vendors, partner organisations, civil society groups, members of the organisation, authorities and civilians in attendance. This gathering brought together different actors in the zero waste movement and even afforded local artists and vendors the opportunity and space to show how they are working toward zero waste at their various levels.

Follow them on social media and learn more about their work!

Opinion by Betty Osei Bonsu

The Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) has been working with the La Dade Kotopon Municipal Assembly (LaDMA) to implement the “Zero Waste Accra project”. This project aims to pilot a Zero Waste management strategy to deliver green jobs in the La Municipality.

On March 11 – 12, 2022, various stakeholders came together, including Sesa Recycling, La Tenu Radio, Ghana Environment.com, ChaiNT Afrique, La pleasure beach, and La Waste Workers. The stakeholders embarked on a door-to-door sensitisation campaign, “Zero Waste for all Communities”, under the theme of promoting citizen participation for effective waste management.

Waste management remains a huge problem in Ghana, and therefore, the sensitisation exercise responded to the lingering waste management problems most Ghanaian communities face. Over 200 volunteers participated in this activity. These volunteers trained and educated residents on properly segregating waste and the associated benefits of waste segregation. They also handed out segregation sacks to facilitate collection.

Before the sensitisation, volunteers were taken through virtual training to be equipped with skills to deliver campaign messages. Additionally, the volunteers disseminated questionnaires that targeted citizens’ perceptions on implementing the zero waste project. This engagement aimed to enhance the partnership with relevant institutions on waste management advocacy, championing waste reduction within the community, increasing collection and influencing the development of a strategic plan for effective communication on zero waste within communities.

The door to door sensitisation activity was carried out in three communities of the La Dade Kotopon Municipal Assembly (Mantiase, Adobetor and Adiembra). Through collective efforts, we reached 500 households and 13 schools, which had over 50,000 students. 

The buyback plastic centre was launched after the day’s sensitisation, this was led by our partner Sesa Recycling. We received 333 kilograms of PET plastic and 122 kilograms of water sachets for recycling and processing at the material recovery facility from the community. 

After this activity, participants and community members expressed their satisfaction with the events, and over 100 households registered to have their segregated waste collected. 

Several media houses, including Angel TV, Ghana Environment.com, and La Tenu Fm released reports on the engagement and highlighted the activity to other stakeholders. GAYO and LADMA look forward to engaging with other organisations and stakeholders to promote effective waste management practices within the community and beyond.

*Betty is the Project Coordinator for the Green Africa Youth Organisation, based in Accra, Ghana. 

Waste picker in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. ©Nipe Fagio

Waste pickers from South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Zambia have demonstrated the common need for official recognition from national and municipal governments, better working conditions, PPE, improved payment for their recovered materials and collection and processing service, and an end to social stigmatisation.

The experience of organising shows that these needs are achievable through building representative organisations that will ensure that their voices are heard in negotiations with governments and demonstrate their value to society.

This requires waste pickers to work collaboratively and embed the principles of democracy, equality and environmental justice in their organised structures. Furthermore, municipalities and national governments need to recognise the value that waste pickers play in diverting waste from the landfills, encouraging recycling where materials re-enter the economy and addressing poverty by providing an income for individuals that have been excluded from the formal economy.

Opinion by Mikhail Aruberito | Centre for Alternative Development

Earlier this year an entrepreneur from Harare, Zimbabwe, won an award for a Waste-to-Energy (WtE) project that incinerates waste for energy production.  The WtE project is still at its initial stage, and there is little information available on the project in the public domain. Sadly, this is not the first proposal for a WtE project in Zimbabwe. This technology has been proposed on different platforms in the country and is seen as a positive development to the public, unaware of the ramifications. 

In 2019, the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) and Harare City Council engaged a Netherlands company, Integrated Energy B.V (IEBV), to construct a WtE plant in Pomona, worth more than 120-Million-Euros, on a build, operate, and transfer arrangement. The company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government through the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works, and National Housing. Fortunately, there has been no further developments made with this project to date. 

Furthermore, the Government of Zimbabwe published its revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) this year. Waste incineration was designated as a renewable energy project and one of the waste management mitigation measures, with plans to build waste energy projects in the country’s major cities. The designation of waste incineration as “renewable energy” subsidies an energy-inefficient practice and produces toxic pollution. The perverse designation of waste incineration as renewable is taking the attention and investment from real renewable energy projects like solar. The GoZ should be focusing on waste management projects such as recycling, composting and other zero waste strategies to create a cleaner and healthier environment. 

Ethiopia shows the viability of a WtE project in Zimbabwe. The facility in Addis Ababa has been operating intermittently and only meets a fraction of the intended energy generation due to the country’s high levels of organic waste. The lack of awareness about generating electricity from waste incineration requires civil society to interrogate the concept of waste incineration as a renewable and alternative form of energy production by focusing on the harmful toxicity of burning waste into the atmosphere and showing the better renewable energy alternative to waste incineration.

Centre for Alternative Development (CAD) has been tracking the recent WtE proposal from the entrepreneur from Harare. According to one authority in the Harare Municipal Council, the project is still at the consultative stage. This stage involves the Harare municipality and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to assess whether the project meets the stipulated requirements and obligations. Civil society must intervene by interrogating the sustainability and feasibility of the WtE project and mobilising the affected community where the project is planned for construction.

CAD is working on investigating the full scope of the project and location. Our goal is to stop the project from implementation. Burning waste to generate electricity in the Harare Metropolitan is neither clean nor renewable. Waste incineration is a risky investment with a higher operating cost, which is passed down to residents. The pollution produced by burning garbage subjects communities near waste incinerators to harmful greenhouse gases such as dioxin, lead, and mercury. Burning garbage to produce electricity is regarded to be more harmful than burning coal. 

It is our responsibility to awake the residents of Harare and the public to the undesirable outcome of the waste to energy project. In an effort to do this, the Centre for Alternative Development (CAD)  will be carrying out a waste audit in the city of Harare. The audit will aim to create a roadmap of the urgent needs and priorities, regarding waste in the country. During this activity, our organisation will promote the separation of waste at the source, and call for the elimination of unrecyclable waste.

Furthermore, CAD will also dedicate time to investigating active and shut down pyrolysis plants. Additionally, we will campaign for the integration and recognition of waste pickers at a municipal level. These awareness campaigns will show the extent of the waste problem in the country, and demonstrate how zero waste practices are a better solution than the technological quick fixes that are being promoted nationally. 

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Follow CAD on Facebook to learn more about their work!

Interview with Ubrei-Joe Maimoni Mariere by Carissa Marnce

Ubrei-Joe Maimoni Mariere is an environmental advocate from the Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA, FoEN) who leads the organisation’s ‘Waste Management, Monitoring & Evaluation’ and ‘Community Outreach‘ projects. Ubrei-Joe also co-coordinates the ‘Economic Justice, Resisting Neoliberalism‘ programme at Friends of the Earth Africa, and coordinates the Africa Climate Justice Group ( ACJG) , which comprises 17 movements’ based and allied organisations and partners in the African region. 

 

Jewel Affairs Movie Industry awarded him the environmental campaigner of the year on December 27, 2020, for his community service over the past decade. 

Photo courtesy of Environmental Rights Action

Brief history of the Environmental Rights Action?

Environmental Rights Action (ERA) is a Nigerian advocacy non-governmental organisation founded on January 11, 1993, to deal with environmental human rights issues in Nigeria. ERA is the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI). ERA was also the coordinating NGO in Africa for Oilwatch International, a Global South network of groups concerned about the effects on the environment of people who live in oil-bearing regions. The organisation is dedicated to protecting human ecosystems through human rights and the promotion of environmentally responsible governmental, commercial, community and individual practices in Nigeria by empowering the local people. The organisation’s commitment to environmental human rights struggles has won recognition through awards such as the 1998 Sophie Prize for excellence and courage in environmental justice, and the 2009 Bloomberg Award for Tobacco control activism.

What are the organisation’s top priorities?

ERA advocates on the most urgent environmental, human rights and social issues often created by the current economic model and corporate globalisation, which excludes and tramples on the rights of local communities. We promote solutions that will help create environmentally-sustainable and just societies. Some of our activities include: 

  • Advocating for waste and plastic policies and regulations.
  • Building coalitions and strengthening alliances. 
  • Movement building of labour groups, civil society organisations, and communities against water privatisation. 
  • Offering consultation on the National Water Bill. 
  • Anti-privatisation of water, sanitation and hygiene activities. 
  • Capacity-building activities on sustainable solutions to forest and biodiversity conservation through community exchanges, workshops, webinars, and ERA’s National Environmental Consultation (NEC).
  • Regional and international advocacy to expose the violations connected to industrial plantation companies, who are drivers of biodiversity loss at all levels of work.
  • Strengthening the popular movement for food sovereignty. 

Biggest accomplishments/ achievements as an organisation? 

ERA is a premier winner of the Sophie Prize, the 2009 Bloomberg Awards for Global Tobacco Control and other prizes for excellence and courage in the struggle for environmental justice.

In 2005, ERA secured a federal high court judgment in favour of the Iwherekhan Community in Delta State against Shell, over gas flaring. 

In 2021, ERA celebrated another landmark court ruling against Shell by Dutch Court for four fishermen in the Niger Delta after 13 years of legal battles. ERA is committed to rebuilding its community and other civil society organisation structures in Nigeria independently, leading environmental campaigns.

Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?

ERA is a member of Friends of the Earth, with around 77 members across the world. The organisation is also part of Oil Watch and the Global Alliance for Incinerators Alternatives (GAIA), which has a large pool of members. ERA collaborates effectively with some of the members of these global coalitions through solidarity support, doing joint actions and projects, and providing climate and environmental litigation services for communities some of our partners work with.  

What are the main environmental issues that Nigeria is facing?

Nigeria is faced with several environmental problems such as oil, gas, air, water and land pollution. The country is also facing lead exposure, poor waste management and deforestation from large scale agricultural projects. Additionally, we are faced with desertification, wind erosion, and flooding challenges. Unwholesome foods, genetically modified foods, gene drives, and synthetic biology are being introduced into the country. The proliferation of false solutions is also a concerning issue.

How did COVID-19 impact the Environmental Rights Action? What challenges are you facing? 

During COVID-19, working with communities was difficult because of the compulsory lock-down declared. Many meetings were taking place online. This was challenging because the facility to effectively move all physically planned meetings online was unavailable, coupled with poor internet connectivity. It is still difficult for community meetings to be migrated online, and large gatherings of people are not allowed, so reaching out to a vast audience these days is quite challenging. 

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in the region are facing?

Anyplace where there is a waste crisis, there is a failure of leadership. It is either that the laws of the land are inadequate, or there are no mechanisms for enforcement. The laws of the land influence the production and consumption pattern, and how society views waste. Waste colonialism is a consequence of leadership failure in most developing countries that see the importation of cheap waste products into their countries as an economic opportunity. That puts community people at the frontline of the waste crisis.

Are there any quotes, mottos, or beliefs that the organisation tries to adopt in all its work? 

‘Leave the oil in the soil,’ and ‘everyone has the right to a protected environment that is favourable to their development’. 

The Cape Agulhas Municipality and the Zero Waste Association of South Africa (ZWASA) have embarked on an innovative Zero Organic Waste to Landfill Pilot Project in Bredasdorp, a small town located in the Western Cape of South Africa, with the ambitious goal to divert 100% of organic waste from the landfill by the year 2027.

The group is working towards becoming the first zero waste town in the country by implementing several key strategies. Firstly, the separation of organic waste at source, to prevent the cross-contamination of materials and increase the number of recycled products.

Keith Roman, director of ZWASA and project manager notes: “The landfill crisis in South Africa is mainly due to the fact that municipalities are failing to implement the most favoured option, in terms of South Africa’s Waste Act and Waste Hierarchy, which is prevention. Secondly, municipalities are not separating waste, especially food waste, at the source.”

Households in the pilot area are provided with compostable bags, to separate organic waste; green bags, to separate garden waste; recycled clear bags for recyclable materials; and a wheelie bin for residual waste. This system is complemented with a separate collection and transportation system to avoid cross-contamination of recyclables and organic waste. Furthermore, households are provided with a manual on how to separate their waste materials at home.

Additionally,the municipality is in the process of constructing a Material Recovery Park (MRP), which will be an integral part of this project, to maximize the waste diversion potential of the municipal district and extend the available lifespan of the current landfill site. The MRP will be equipped with a material recovery facility to recover materials; community drop off points, composting and vermicomposting points; as well as a resource and education centre. The park also aims to provide employment opportunities in the operation and management of the MRF, organic waste diversion facilities, material transfer station and the transportation of containers to the regional landfill facility in order to sustain economic growth in the region.

“There are approximately 20 waste pickers working on the Bredasdorp landfill site, the municipality and ZWASA plan to integrate the waste pickers into this system. As well as provide them with the appropriate organisational capacity building, training and mentorship as part of the integration process,” said Keith.

The group is expecting to achieve 50% of waste diverted from the landfill by 2022.

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Follow ZWASA on Facebook for more updates on their work!