Kenya’s environmental activists applaud US support for a global pact to combat plastic pollution in the oceans. Meanwhile, a community-based initiative is doing its part by collecting and recycling plastic that has washed up on Kenya’s beaches, where people depend on tourism for a living.
Piles of plastic waste lie on Kenya’s beaches in Watamu – visible evidence of plastic pollution in the oceans.
Twice a week, Watamu Marine Association’s project coordinator, Julie Myra, leads teams that collect bags and bottles and other items that are washed up from the ocean. They collect an average of five tons of rubbish a week.
âIt is sorted so that the recyclable items such as plastic, glass and metals can be identified. We sell the metals to the scrap dealers. We shredded it for the plastic. The hard plastic as well as the plastic water bottles. We shred and sell. The money we get from such sales goes back into the project to finance further beach cleanups, âsaid Myra.
Plastic pollution is a major problem affecting the marine environment. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program, an estimated eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year – 80% of that from uncollected land litter.
The impact on Kenya’s coastal areas like Watamu are critical as the region relies heavily on tourism for income, Myra says. “If the tourists don’t want to visit a dirty beach, it means the livelihoods of these local parishioners and the business for the tourism industry are threatened.”
During a visit to Nairobi ahead of the resumed session of the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Americaâs support for a new global deal to combat plastic pollution in the oceans.
âOur goal is to create a tool that we can use to protect our oceans and all of the life they feed from the growing global damage caused by plastic pollution. It is crucial that the agreement calls on countries to develop and enforce strong national action plans to address this problem at its source, âsaid Blinken.
Environmentalists have welcomed US support and urged other major plastics manufacturers such as China to join the negotiations.
Erastus Ooko, spokesman for plastic at Greenpeace Africa says: âThe USA is one of the largest polluters and also a manufacturer of plastic. And that they come on board is a sign of leadership and that they not only have to be leaders in terms of pollution and production, but also in terms of participating in the solution is of great importance. And we will be excited to see how they can cut this type of plastic production from its end, so that we do not bring more plastic into the environment. Perhaps we will also see China join forces and other countries support these negotiations. “
In the meantime, Myra and her group from the Watamu Marine Association will continue to collect trash and fight for the cleanliness of Kenya’s beaches.