#StopWasteColonialism | Africa Day 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.”