Reducing the irresponsible production, use and disposal of plastics in developing countries
The irresponsible consumption of resources and production of synthetic materials has already significantly impacted our environment.
Many of the materials produced are single-use plastics that are disposed of improperly or disposed of in a way that causes more environmental harm, for example, incineration, which requires the use of fossil fuels as an energy source.
Wellers Impact recognises this widespread problem and has partnered with Water Unite to address this issue in developing countries.
Plastics and polymers as materials have properties that can be manipulated for a range of uses and applications, which has consequently increased their value over the last 70 years and has increased the number of plastics that are produced worldwide (Hopewell et al. 2009).
Although the durability and the malleable properties of plastics have massive social benefits across different sectors, for example, the medical sector, these same properties make it difficult to responsibly produce, consume and dispose of.
The majority of plastics are not biodegradable, meaning that they cannot be broken down by the environment alone. Other disposal mechanisms require the use of fossil fuels to produce the energy required to decompose and incinerate the materials which can also produce harmful gases.
Furthermore, many of the plastics that are produced for worldwide consumption are produced for short term use and single-use, for example, packaging, meaning that modern-day plastic consumption is not sustainable.
This has led to a build-up of plastics within the environment which can have detrimental environmental impacts that affect native flora and fauna, as well as local people. One of the most common characteristics that plastic pollutants have include conveying toxicity across a spectrum of severity.
Nanoplastics can be ingested by microorganisms and macro-organisms alike, the toxic effects of which can be amplified and observed across food chains, including the human food chain.
Plastic pollution in water has led to world-wide unknowing consumption of toxic plastic pollutants. This is particularly unavoidable in developing countries where many people do not have access to safe drinking water and are exposed to these pollutants as well as harmful macrophages (bacterias) and organic waste.
Recycling these plastic materials for other uses is one solution for mitigating these impacts. 15% of plastics are recycled in Kenya, which equates to around 38,000 tonnes of plastic (State of Green 2018).
Furthermore, in 2010, it was reported that 83% of Kenya’s plastic waste was being managed inadequately, meaning that a significant amount of plastic waste has entered both aquatic and terrestrial environments as pollutants (Ritchie and Roser 2018). As Kenya is a coastal country that also has five neighbouring Sub-Saharan countries, the negative impacts associated with contaminants entering an aquatic environment has a knock-on effect to its neighbours as well as impacting marine life.
Even though Kenya is not the largest contributing country to oceanic plastic pollution, it is still part of the worldwide issue concerning plastics contaminating aquatic flora and fauna, causing oceanic environmental degradation as well as terrestrial environmental degradation domestically and regionally.
In terms of plastic disposal, many litter plastics are more susceptible to disintegration as opposed to degradation through biological and chemical driving forces in the environment (de Souza Machado et al. 2018).
The emergence of microplastics from fragments of plastic pollutants is considered a substantial threat to aquatic and terrestrial life and is considered a long-term anthropogenic interference (Barnes et al. 2009). Therefore, it is only reasonable to assume that any effective solutions to plastic overconsumption, overproduction and pollution must equally be sustainable in the long term.
Wellers Impact, through its partnership with Water Unite, is addressing the issue of irresponsible overproduction of plastics through a variety of programmes run by Water Unite in developing countries. Their programme, Gjenge Makers, operates in Kenya and aims to promote plastic upcycling whilst providing building materials for people’s houses.
Gjenje Makers employs local Kenyans as plastic pickers, providing employment opportunities for people in marginalised communities who may not have otherwise had an income.
Furthermore, not only does this programme address the extensive environmental issues surrounding plastic contamination and overproduction, it also mitigates the negative impacts on mass-produced plastics by finding a responsible, practical use for them.
Water Unite is also partnered with a Mozambique based company called 3R (Recycle, Reuse, Reduce) which aims to strengthen the plastic chain value domestically.
This programme is addressing the plastic waste issue within Mozambique, as an environmental tax was adopted as a result of EPR regulations.
Companies in Mozambique were incentivised to reduce their plastic consumption through recycling and collecting plastic for packaging, which would enable them to offset this tax.
3R’s role in this scheme is to evaluate whether a network of outlying secondary collection points for plastic waste and recycling would add value to this solution. This scheme aims to decrease the reliance on new plastic for packaging, thus decreasing regional plastic production.
As part of Wellers Impact’s approach, we are providing long term technical assistance to aid Water Unite in confronting the overproduction and management of waste plastics. Long term assistance and commitment is key in working towards the SDGs of any sustainable and responsible investment.
The importance of this can be recognised in SDG 12 as the irresponsible production and consumption of resources is a long term problem that will require consistent attention, care and management.
Wellers Impact is a UK-based, FCA-Regulated Impact Investment Manager which works to unlock community-focused impact through SDG-focused impact investing. Through innovative investment models that utilise fair economics, Wellers Impact originates investment opportunities across three core business activities; real estate developments in partnership with local land-owning not-for-profits in East Africa, financial support for agriculture firms and supply chains globally through sustainable development finance and direct investment into private water, sanitation and plastics recycling firms globally. Investment involves risk. Suitable for Sophisticated, Professional and High Net Worth Investors only.
Barnes, D., Galgani, F., Thompson, R. and Barlaz, M., 2009. Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), pp.1985-1998.
de Souza Machado, A., Kloas, W., Zarfl, C., Hempel, S. and Rillig, M., 2018. Microplastics as an emerging threat to terrestrial ecosystems. Global Change Biology, 24(4), pp.1405-1416.
Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R. and Kosior, E., 2009. Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), pp.2115-2126.
State of Green. 2018. Around 38,000 Tonnes Of Plastic Packaging Waste Recycled Per Year In Kenya. [online] Available at: <https://stateofgreen.com/en/partners/state-of-green/news/around-38000-tonnes-of-plastic-packaging-waste-recycled-per-year-in-kenya/#:~:text=15%20per%20cent%20of%20all%20plastic%20packaging%20in%20Kenya%20is%20recycled.&text=According%20to%20questionnaire%20responses%20from,waste%20around%2015%20per%20cent.>.
Ritchie, H. and Roser, M., 2018. Plastic Pollution. [online] Our World in Data. Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution>.
Water Unite 2020. Water Unite: United To End Water Poverty & Plastic Pollution. [online] Available at: <https://www.waterunite.org/>.