Africa becoming the planet's dumping ground, says UN
Report paints grim picture of continent buckling under severe waste management challenges
Africa is fast turning into the planet’s dumpsite, with the continent producing more and more waste as it struggles to cope with exploding populations and increasing urbanisation.
In 2012, the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent generated 125 million tons of municipal solid waste, with that figure expected to double by 2025.
Of the 50 largest dumpsites on the globe, 19 are found in Africa. On top of that more than 90% of waste generated in Africa is disposed at uncontrolled dumpsites and landfills where open burning is common.
All of these startling revelations were made in the first Africa Waste Management Outlook report, released by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria on Tuesday.UN Environment Programme head Cecilia Njenga said the uncontrolled dumping of waste is one of the major challenges facing Africa.
“This is a momentous time for Africa,” she said. “The report sets a vision for Africa and we hope that this document will inform and inspire decision-makers around the continent to preserve the environment.”
Njenga said there was a lot of electronic waste from North America being dumped in West Africa despite international conventions preventing the dumping of hazardous waste.
“African countries think they are getting valuable products but then they break down within a month. Developed countries need to respect the international treaties.”
The release of the report, which provides an analysis of the state of waste management in Africa and its impact on the continent, coincided with World Environment Day and South Africa’s Sustainability Week.
Sustainability Week, an annual integrated event at which different sectors and policy makers try and find better, sustainable options to protect the environment and the planet, is being held from June 5-7 at the CSIR International Convention Centre.It found that 13% of waste generated in Africa was plastic while 57% was organic, the bulk of which was dumped.
The report was compiled using the contributions of a number of experts and researchers from across the continent and in conjunction with the UN’s International Environmental Technology Centre.
Principal scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the co-ordinating lead author of the publication, Professor Linda Godfrey, said Africa was currently only recycling 4% of the waste it generated.
This is a far cry from the African Union’s vision that “African cities will be recycling at least 50% of the waste they generate by 2023”.
“There is an urgent need for African countries to address the current waste management challenges and to prepare themselves for the expected growth in waste generation in the coming century,” Godfrey said.
“This will require social and technological innovation, and investment in services and infrastructure in the waste and secondary resources sector never before seen in Africa.”
Developed countries were also taking advantage of the poor controls and lack of infrastructure to properly deal with waste across the continent, and were using Africa as a dumping ground for end-of-life goods, such as electronic waste, according to the report.
It found that just diverting waste from landfills and dumpsites towards reuse, recycling and recovery “could inject an additional [R100-billion] every year into the African economy”.
“The resource value currently locked up in Africa’s waste is significant, which should be attractive to public- and private-sector investors, assuming the technologies are appropriate for Africa,” the report said.
Some of the areas of intervention to improve Africa’s waste management included building appropriate services and technologies to deal with the continent’s waste, and strengthening legislation and law enforcement through institutions that are enforced for action.