Earth Day: Plastic Pollution, a Global Crisis with Devastating Impacts on Africa

Earth Day reminds us of the urgent need to understand the serious problem of plastic pollution and how it disproportionately affects vulnerable communities in Africa. Plastic pollution, largely fueled by our dependence on fossil fuels, worsens the climate crisis, leading to harmful effects on ecosystems, livelihoods, and health.


Plastic is a pressing global concern, but its impact on Africa is particularly severe. Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels and is mainly produced by big corporations closely linked with the fossil fuel industry. The production of fossil fuel generated plastic increases greenhouse gas emissions and worsens climate change. With only 9% of plastic waste being recycled globally and 22% mismanaged, Africa bears a disproportionate burden. Much of the plastic waste generated elsewhere, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, finds its way into Africa, legally or illegally.

This results in escalating climate impacts which disproportionately affect communities across the African continent. Despite efforts to adopt cleaner energy sources, the widespread use of single-use plastics continues to tie us to fossil fuels. This reliance not only damages the environment but also poses a threat to communities worldwide. Shockingly, plastic production already contributes 3-4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this could triple by 2050 without significant action.

Africa, historically used as a dumping ground for waste from wealthier nations, still faces the consequences of waste colonialism. The proposed Global Plastics Treaty offers hope of addressing this injustice by advocating for responsible waste management, setting standards for plastic consumption and charting a path to a plastic free future. Plastic pollution worsens existing social injustices, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. These communities suffer from health risks associated with plastic production, such as cancer and asthma, while the fossil fuel companies often evade accountability. It’s crucial to involve indigenous communities, waste collectors, and frontline groups in treaty negotiations to ensure fair solutions to the crisis. Communities at the frontline of the plastic crisis endure daily challenges, including economic hardships and exposure to harmful chemicals. Their input is crucial in developing effective strategies to combat plastic pollution.

The promotion of chemical recycling as a solution is controversial because it perpetuates fossil fuel extraction and plastic production, further harming communities and the environment. Instead, decision-makers should focus on implementing a robust plastics treaty that significantly reduces plastic production, regulates plastic  consumption and fosters the complete phase out of plastics.

On this Earth Day, it’s essential to recognize the urgency of addressing the plastic crisis and its adverse impact on African communities. Simply relying on recycling is not enough; we must tackle the root cause of the problem by implementing global measures to kick out plastics and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its role in the plastic crisis in order to address the environmental and climate injustice. Earth Day is a time when everyday people make incredible things happen for our climate movement. And you can join that movement. Sign up for our network or make a donation today. Any amount, big or small, will help escalate our climate campaigns. Demand that world leaders make fossil fuel companies pay for their destruction. We need this to fund the energy transition we urgently need.


By Anna Amar for