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Plastics

Designing out plastic pollution

In recent decades, global production and consumption of plastics have soared. Between 1950 and 2015, global production of plastics increased nearly 200-fold to 381 million tonnes per year. Today, in African countries, the per capita plastic consumption remains relatively low. However, it’s predicted that in Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, the imports of plastics will double by 2030. In the next decade, about 165 million tonnes of plastics are expected to reach their end-of-life in African countries. 

Our current take-make-waste linear plastics economy has significant negative impacts on the environment and on local communities, with low-income and vulnerable communities often being the most heavily impacted. Plastic waste entering the ocean represents a potential threat to food security and economic development, and unmanaged waste on land may also contribute to the spread of diseases and viruses, such as malaria or Ebola.

As such, plastic pollution presents not only an environmental issue, but also a major socio-economic and development challenge. A comprehensive circular economy approach is the only solution that can match the scale of the problem.

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The article discusses three key strategies that help design out packaging waste in particular:

  • Elimination is about finding ways to design out packaging, either by removing unnecessary packaging or innovating so that packaging is no longer needed
  • Reuse business models keep packaging in use for more than one cycle, meaning the packaging is either returned to the business or refilled by the customer
  • Material circulation is about redesigning packaging so that it can be recycled or composted

By implementing these three actions, we can maximise the economic, societal, and environmental benefits that plastics bring us and minimise – and eventually eliminate – their negative impacts. The article features innovations and solutions that are already being implemented in African countries. 

Download the article

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French version also available