The Impact of Microplastics in Senegal

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Recently, the world has become aware of a quiet but pervasive environmental threat: microplastics. All over the world, we breathe, drink, and eat microplastics daily.

In the past six decades, human activities have generated a shocking 8.4 billion tons of plastic waste with only a meagre 9% recycled worldwide; a good part of this waste ends up in our oceans.[1]

The minuscule plastic particles, measuring less than 5 millimetres in size, have entered almost every corner of our planet, from the depths of the seas to the highest mountains. This has led to a staggering influx of up to 12 million tons of plastic annually into our oceans. [2] The problem exacerbates further as plastic waste in public areas and even from landfills finds its way into water bodies via drainage networks and waterways.

Microplastics originate from various sources, including the breakdown of more complex plastic items, the shedding of microfibers from synthetic clothing and the overall use of microbeads in care products. As they continue to accumulate and spread throughout the environment, the problem of microplastics is a pressing global concern that demands immediate attention and solutions.

Once in the ocean, microplastics remain there. Marine animals often cannot distinguish between their food and plastic particles. Once ingested, these microplastics are not excreted naturally. These marine animals enter our food chain and end up on our plates. Particles have even been found in milk and juice. Microplastics are harmful to the animals and humans who ingest them as they are endocrine disruptors as well they also act as magnets for environmental toxins. This means that many toxic substances can accumulate on their surface. A recent study has found that people eat 5 grams of micro and nano plastics every week.[3] From the deepest part of the human lung to our hearts, microplastics appear to have invaded every bit of our lives. In laboratory tests, microplastics have been shown to cause damage to human cells, including both allergic reactions, cell death, damaging cells, and inducing inflammatory and immune reactions.

Microplastics used in food packaging and paint have been discovered in the human heart for the first time. A team from the Beijing Anzhen Hospital in China collected heart tissue samples from 15 patients undergoing heart surgery, as well as blood samples taken before and after the operation. Nine types of plastic were found in five types of heart tissue. Thousands of individual microplastic pieces were discovered using a laser and infrared imaging, but the amounts varied between patients. Scientists have previously discovered microplastics in the lungs, brains, and blood of living and deceased humans, but how much plastic gets into our bodies is still debated. The particles can enter the human body through our mouth, nose, and other openings. There are concerns they can cause babies to be born dangerously underweight.[4]

Microplastics in Senegal

Senegal with a population of just over 17 million people according to statistics from, occupies the 21th place among the world’s biggest ocean polluting countries with an annual pollution of 190 kilograms of waste per person per year, according to data from the “Senegal Zero Waste” Association. Today, unfortunately, this is no longer a matter of dispute. You just need to walk along the beaches of Dakar to see it: huge amounts of plastics littering the sand and floating on the surface of the water and in the streets of Dakar; all this plastic decomposing under the sun into microplastics.

The cause of the problem is a combination of many aspects, such as high rates of poverty (90% of waste in the low-income countries is still systematically dumped or burned, and only 4% is recycled),[5] colonialism (Western countries are exploiting Africa by exporting their plastic and biological waste. “Over one billion tonnes of plastic were dumped in countries like Senegal and Kenya in one year”)[6] and inadequate government enforcement of laws governing solid waste management. For Senegal, the lack of existing laws managing plastic waste and the high concentration of its habitants near the coast exacerbates the problem. Despite the 2020 law banning the use of certain single-use bags, which is not enforced, it is predicted that by 2025 Senegal will produce more than 700,000 metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste. By way of comparison, the United States is expected to produce 337,000 metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste by 2025. Plastic waste management therefore remains a major problem in Senegal.[7]

A study of plastic marine pollution in Dakar, the capital, found from samples collected that the average abundance of microplastics was around 258 954 microplastic particles per km2. One station, downstream from a major wastewater plant, contained high abundance of microplastic particles of over 945 000. High level of ecotoxicity were often found (harmful bacteria, often associated with plastic pollution).  Science Direct Journal, The results are a first step within the framework of encouraging awareness and actions in West Africa.” The study notes that the impacts of plastic debris (macroplastics) are ecological, economic, and social in West Africa and their impacts on tourism, sanitation, and fishing are the most reported. [8]

According to Awa Traoré, West Africa Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, recent studies have found plastics in seafood, wildlife, tap water, and now in salt. It’s clear that there is no escape from this plastic crisis, especially as it continues to leak into our waterways and oceans,” This new findings of plastics in salt with the two sample results from Senegal show in the salt a yearly level of  1.49 ton riverine plastic emission, and the presence of microplastics in sea salt, are good indicators of the correlation between abundance micro plastics in sea salts, riverine plastic emissions, and micro plastic level in seawater. [9]It’s another critical highlight of the plastic pollution crisis in Senegal.

With a coastline of over 600 km, the Atlantic Ocean contributes significantly to Senegal’s economy. The fishing industry employs more than 17% of the working population, not counting the indirect jobs created by its sub-sectors.[10] Tackling the problem of plastic in the marine environment is imperative, especially as fish provides almost 70% of the Senegalese population’s animal protein diet, representing an annual per capita fish consumption of 29.9 kilograms.[11] Furthermore, Senegal is a future oil producer, and when you say plastic, you say oil. This will certainly be an additional problem if measures are not taken to promote recycling, innovation, and better waste management. Otherwise, Senegal will have to deal with more plastic waste and even more microplastics, which are likely to compromise fishing and agriculture; combined the largest sector in Senegal, which could deprive thousands of Senegalese people of employment. Not to mention the resulting environmental damage.[12]

Solutions for Senegal

In addition to the laws that need to be created, implemented, and rigorously enforced to reduce the use of plastics and promote proper management of plastic waste, there are other innovative and effective solutions, particularly in the circular economy, where plastic waste is regarded as a commodity, creating thousands of decent, sustainable jobs (from collection to repurposing).

Africa Carbon and Commodities (ACC) has joined the fight by supporting businesses and communities directly involved in collecting and recycling plastic waste. ACC is a leading project developer dedicated to driving sustainable solutions for environmental challenges in Africa. ACC pioneers innovative projects that combat climate change, promote sustainable practices, and empower local communities. With a strong focus on plastic waste reduction and recycling, ACC is actively involved in creating a circular economy and supporting businesses in reducing their plastic footprint by developing and promoting plastic credits projects in West Africa.

The Deekali Project: Plastic waste ready for delivery to a local recycling center in Senegal.