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.
Although there are thousands of individual chemicals that can be described as EDCs, they fall into seven broad categories. This brief discusses what each group is, how people can be exposed, and the health impacts.
Environmental groups are accusing the Trudeau government of acting in bad faith after it quietly signed a bilateral agreement with the U.S. that could allow it to evade some of its obligations to stop shipping plastic waste to poor countries around the world.