Guest column by Griffins Ochieng and Yuyun Ismawati Originally published December 23, 2020, on allAfrica.com
Kenya has been a beacon for global efforts to reduce plastics. The country’s 2017 plastic bag ban reduced environmental degradation that comes from plastic waste and demonstrated decisive government action against plastic pollution. Now, Kenya finds itself again in the spotlight as the primary line of defense to protect Africans from an unprecedented explosion of toxic plastic waste across the continent. New research exposing that toxic chemicals from plastics are poisoning Africa’s food chain, covered in The East African, should strengthen governmental resolve to protect the collective health of Kenyans and all Africans.
When China closed its door to imports of the world’s plastic waste in 2017, the world’s biggest plastic waste producers began dumping plastic waste in countries with developing economies and weaker environmental infrastructures, predominantly in South East Asia. The recycling game had been disrupted , but the world pushed back .
In 2020, Kenya joined 183 other countries in giving developing countries a simple tool to resist the dumping of waste from the global north. Kenya signed the sensible Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendment , which requires importers to declare the contents of their shipments and secure prior informed contest from importing countries before shipping plastic waste.
Governments and advocates have joined forces and worked to repatriate unwanted waste from the Philippines , Indonesia , Malaysia , and Thailand . Interpol documented a dramatic upswing in criminal plastic waste dumping, further underscoring that plastic waste is a burden that no one wants.
Yet despite the growing global movement against plastic pollution, the chemical industry is moving to create MORE plastics, aiming to triple the supply by 2030 . Why? Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from oil and gas. As prices drop for fossil fuel energy, the industry is increasing plastic production. Skyrocketing plastic production means an even larger colossus of plastic waste, waste that is riven with toxic chemicals that are hazardous to human health and the environment.
Eggs from chickens that forage around waste yards and plastic burning sites are a risk as they have been found to contain high levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
Studies carried out in Kenya and Tanzania found high levels of POPs in the eggs from such chickens, pointing to an environment polluted with chemicals, including banned and current-use plastic additives and chemicals created from burning plastics.
The study, “Plastic waste poisons the food chain in Kenya and Tanzania” was done to monitor persistent organic contaminants for human health and food.
In Kenya, the study was done with eggs produced by hens in the vicinity of a school community cooker in Mirema, Nairobi, that burns plastic waste for fuel. In Tanzania, it was carried out with free-range chicken eggs at households in Pugu Kinyamwezi located next to a large municipal solid waste dumpsite on the south-western edge of Dar es Salaam.
The study spearheaded by IPEN and local environment watchdogs — Centre for Environmental Justice and Development (CEJAD) in Kenya and Agenda for Environment and Responsible Development (Agenda) in Tanzania — found the eggs contained dioxins and POPs like brominated flame retardants.
Less widely reported than the mountains of single-use plastics and unrecycled plastics are the often-harmful chemical additives these plastics contain. Meant to make plastics more pliable or durable, more fire-resistant or antimicrobial, more UV-resistant or simply more colorful, many of these additives have been shown to disturb hormonal systems in humans and animals by leaching into liquids, food, and the environment. In a new report, “Plastics, EDCs & Health: A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policymakers on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals & Plastics,” the Endocrine Society and IPEN detail chemicals, what they are and where they occur, their effects, and exposures to organisms, painting an alarming picture of the harms to which we are all exposed.
Bali, Indonesia/Bangkok, Thailand/Manila, Philippines Experts from various fields and institutions cited the tremendous potentials of citizen science for advancing public participation in research efforts that can generate data, which can increase the negotiation power of communities facing chemical and waste pollution.
At the end last week of the four-part IPEN Southeast and East Asia Virtual Conference, resource persons from Norway, Indonesia and the Philippines and participants from 12 countries discussed perspectives and experiences on citizen science for generating data and for pursuing policies and measures to promote and protect public health and the environment.
Held amid mobility restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the online conference series was co-organized by the Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand, Nexus3 Foundation-Indonesia and EcoWaste Coalition-Philippines with support from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and IPEN.
In response to stated plans by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to strengthen ties with a trade association whose members continue to produce highly hazardous pesticides harmful to human health and the enviroment, IPEN and over three hundred other organizations in over 60 countries have sent a letter to Director-General Qu Dongyu opposing the alliance. The proposed collaboration with CropLife — whose members include BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Corteva Agriscience, FMC and Syngenta, and who combined make more than one-third of their sales income from highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) — directly undermines the FAO's priority of a progressive ban on HHPs, as well as its role as a global leader supporting innovative approaches to agricultural production and advancing food security, sustainability, and resilience.
The letter notes that CropLife members specifically target markets in developing and emerging countries where the regulation and commercialization of pesticides are more weakly controlled, and that sales of HHPs are greater in these parts of the world where harms to human health and the environment are worse. Farmers, agricultural workers, and those living in rural communities suffer increased rates of a broad array of health harms, and decimation of beneficial insects and other organisms have been linked to HHPs.
The participation of non-professional scientists in scientific research or monitoring efforts can empower grassroots organizations and movements into advancing a sustainable and toxics-free future for all.
Citizen science, as it is generally called, has become a strategic tool enabling communities impacted by chemical and waste problems to empower themselves with data and information that can be used to assert their rights to a healthy and safe environment. A four-part online regional conference commencing today will put a spotlight on the application of citizen science in addressing such problems affecting mostly poor and marginalized communities, with children, pregnant women and workers at greater risk. It will bring together over 70 citizen science advocates, practitioners and learners from 11 countries.
The International Pollutants Elimination Network - Southeast and East Asia (IPEN-SEA) Virtual Conference that is taking place amid the COVID-19 pandemic is co-organized by Nexus3 Foundation-Indonesia, EcoWaste Coalition-Philippines and the Ecological Alert and Recovery- Thailand with support from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and IPEN. “Through the years, citizen science has developed into a practical and potent tool for helpless victims who often suffer in silence from the destructive pollution caused by powerful commercial and industrial interests,” noted Penchom Saetang, Executive Director of EARTH and a citizen science practitioner for over 20 years.
Gothenburg, Sweden A new report from IPEN, with data on lead in paint from almost 60 countries, shows that in 25 out of 27 countries that adopted protective legal limits on lead in paint since 2008, the work of non-governmental organizations was key in moving forward standards, regulation, and enforcement. Countries without enforced regulations in place still had lead paint available on the market, posing health risks to children and other vulnerable groups.
A survey from the World Health Organization shows that lead paint is still not regulated in a majority of countries, despite a global goal to phase out these paints by the year 2020. As of 31 May 2020, only 39% of countries had confirmed that they have legally binding controls on lead paint. In addition, many of these regulations are not protective enough since they include exemptions, lax limits, or are not enforced.
During the eighth annual International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action, beginning October 25, 2020, activities by NGOs in 36 countries will celebrate success and highlight urgent needs for additional action.