EGYPT – The Egyptian government is launching a global waste initiative dubbed “50 by 2050” that aims to ensure at least half of all African waste is treated and recycled before 2050.

Announced at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, proponents say the ambitious targets could reduce the “waste colonialism” plaguing African countries.

The launch comes at a time when the country recycles only 4% of this total waste and fewer plastics.

Africa generates just about 16 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, which is only 6% of plastic waste generated globally.

Waste generation in Africa, like in other developing regions in the world, is driven by population growth, rapid urbanization, a growing middle class, changing consumption habits and production patterns, and global waste trade and trafficking.

In addition to waste generated in the continent, the importation of waste from developed nations also contributes to the menace given that that continent lacks enough technology and financial power to deal with waste.

Ana Le Rocha, Executive Director of Tanzania-based zero waste organization Nipe Fagio, says: “The waste crisis faced by Africa is not generated by African models but by a consequence of various kinds of colonialism.

“African countries also have very limited available funds to deal with the waste crisis and it ends up impacting the most vulnerable populations beyond any acceptable limit.”

To circularize African economies, global leaders must recognize the disparate and often undeveloped waste systems in each of the continent’s 54 countries, speakers at the conference asserted.

This will also mean implementing tougher regulations abroad and restricting the flow of waste from foreign nations in the global north.

According to Niven Reddy, regional coordinator for GAIA Africa Waste, pollution and the environmental and human health harms it creates are not only generated in Africa.

“Large amounts of waste are created through non-recyclable packaging coming from companies in the global north,” said Reddy.

“They produce materials that cannot be recycled in places lacking the necessary waste management infrastructure.

“Global leaders can support Africa by bringing an end to waste colonialism, both by creating policies to reduce single-use plastic marketed in the global south and preventing the transfer trade of waste from the global north to the south. If a country cannot manage its own waste, it shouldn’t be generating it.”

Recently, a cross-party group of British MPs called on the UK government to ban all plastic waste exports by 2028.

The calls followed a committee report showing that most of the country’s waste is sent to nations like Turkey, where a lack of infrastructure leads to dangerous landfilling and incineration practices.

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