Perspectives from Two Eminent Experts on Plastic Waste in Africa

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At the forefront of environmental concerns in Africa is the pressing issue of plastic waste. More than 80% of plastic pollution in the ocean comes from developing and middle-income countries.

Mr. David Dupré LaTour and Professor Adams Tidjani, based in Senegal stand out for their unwavering commitment to finding sustainable solutions for waste management in West Africa.  These experts offer invaluable insight into the complexities of plastic waste management in Senegal and the subregion.

David Dupre La Tour a prominent expert with over twenty years’ experience is a distinguished professional in the field of recycling and plastic waste management. He creates business plans, conducts market studies and works with governments in implementing plastic waste management strategies, notably in France, Morocco, Algeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Congo and Senegal. By demonstrating a holistic approach to waste management, his studies identifying the main polymers, analyzing their life cycle and value chain. He is currently working with the Senegalese government to establish four waste sorting and recovery centers. His invaluable contributions help to stimulate sustainable growth by optimizing and innovating the waste recycling processes.

Professor Adams Tidjani is a teacher-researcher in the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University Cheikh-Anta-Diop of Dakar (UCAD). With a doctorate in nuclear physics and polymer photochemistry, he initiated UCAD’s first Professional Master’s in the Environment, focusing on industrial ecology. He founded the Natural & Artificial Radiation Laboratory (LRNA), where several studies on plastics were carried out, including the manufacture of composite materials from plastic waste mixed with agricultural waste. He also created the “Association de Lutte pour la Préservation de l’Environnement (ALPE)[1]” in 2007 and launched the “VIE” magazine both which aim to raise awareness of environmental issues in West Africa. As the founder of the Institute for Environmental and Metrology Professions (IMEM), an educational institute for cutting edge solutions to environmental challenges, he seeks to inspire environmental activism. In recognition to his contributions to the environmental field Adams Tidjani received several distinguished awards, including the “Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Lion of the Republic of Senegal[2] and UCAD’s best researcher in 2022 and 2023. As a member of several international scientific societies[3] his research includes the study of polymer biodegradation, polymer flammability and nanocomposite, producing over twenty well recognized publications.

Both experts agree that plastic waste management in West Africa, particularly in Senegal is multi-faceted and faces challenges such as the widespread use of hard-to-recycle plastic bags and PET bottles, as well as inefficient waste collection systems and inadequate enforcement of existing laws.

Mr. Dupré expressed his concern about the proliferation of plastic bags that are difficult to recycle. He highlights the challenges of collecting these bags, their often-dirty nature, and the

low value they represent for recyclers. Dupre also points to the inadequacy of PET bottle collection efforts, underlining the need for coordinated action across the sub-region.

Professor Tidjani underscores the emergency of an effective waste collection system and identifies plastic bags, especially, as a serious environmental and health concern. He emphasizes that plastic is not only an environmental problem but also a health crisis, with microplastics entering the food chain. Indeed, when plastic stays in nature, whether in water or on land, it undergoes a degradation process induced by light or heat producing microplastics. Today, these microplastics are consumed by animals such as sheep and fish. As a result, this toxic material ends up in our food chain, without us even realizing it.

Mr. Dupré stresses the importance of collaboration between the various stakeholders, including government, business, civil society, researchers, and experts, in tackling the challenges posed by plastic waste. He points out that, despite the existence of a plastics law, its effectiveness has yet to be felt. Indeed, he would like the law to take greater account of the opinions, interests and constraints of manufacturers and users. He advocates as well for the implementation of a “polluter pays” principle; it requires the polluter to assume the cost of pollution, in the public interest, without disrupting international trade and investment. It has a preventive and curative function, imposing taxes, or charges on those responsible for environmental damage, as well as remediation. On the other hand, he notes that the private sector has seen growth in recycling companies, with some twenty new start-ups in the space of 15 years in Senegal. But a lack of support from the public authorities could hold back their full development.

Professor Tidjani stresses the importance of not “recycling for recycling’s sake”, but of meeting society’s specific needs through a circular economy. In rural areas, for example, recycled plastic can be used to make tiles or create walls to keep stray animals out of gardens etc. He shares past successes in recycling plastic bags to create ecological benches at the University of Dakar’s campus as well benches were made from tires filled with discarded plastic bags. A total of 3600 tires and 4m3 of plastic waste were recycled. He calls for political support to grow such initiatives nationally, emphasizing the importance of funding and support for research about recycling and waste management adapted to local realities.

Furthermore, he calls on recycling companies to involve researchers, who could help produce better recycled materials. He asserts that research is essential to validate products. It’s essential to know their lifespan, resistance, insulation, and durability. Mr. Dupre agrees and suggests that companies that can certify and provide labels for recycled products which would open opportunities in international markets.

The lack of government support underlines the need for innovative solutions. Mr. Dupre sees Plastic Credits (a plastic credit represents one metric tonne of plastic waste that has been collected or recycled, respectively) as an important opportunity for stakeholders in the plastic waste chain. These credits can improve working conditions and product quality while strengthening and expanding collection and recycling activities and capacity. He also believes that the plastic credits could contribute to better management of hard-to-recycle waste, which he calls “orphan waste“, such as PET in West Africa. Professor Tidjani finds the idea of plastic credits as highly innovative.

Africa Carbon and Commodities (ACC) colloborating with experts like Dupre and Tidjani, aims to work with all stakeholders for the creation of a circular economy. ACC supports companies in mitigating their plastic footprint by initiating and advocating for plastic credit projects across West Africa, with the intention of positively impacting the entire plastic waste management value chain. This initiative reflects a commitment to sustainable practices, environmental stewardship, and the promotion of circular economy principles within the region.

The perspectives of Professor Tidjani and Mr. Dupré highlight the urgent need for collaborative efforts involving government, the private sector, civil society, and researchers to address plastic waste challenges in West Africa. They emphasize that a combination of efforts, innovations, and solutions adapted to local realities is crucial for initiating an ecological revolution in the region. The potential of plastic credits, as exemplified by Africa Carbon and Commodities projects presents an innovative opportunity for stakeholders to work together in creating a circular economy and reducing the plastic footprint.

[1] Association for the Preservation of the Environment
[2] Senegal’s first Order, it rewards exceptional merit acquired in the service of the Nation, whether in a military or civilian capacity.
[3] American Physical Society (APS), American Chemical Society (ACS), International Radiation Physics Society (IRPS) and Groupe Recherche Environnement Presse (GREP).