The ecosystem of the Sahel is in serious danger
Do you know where Senegal is situated? It is on the west coast of Africa. This country, just like most African countries with a coastline, is having serious problems with plastic waste. Plastic is invading their country and putting the ecosystem at risk.
2 Years ago Senegal forbade the use, production, and importation of plastic wrappings of less than 30 microns. This is the type of plastic that is used for wrapping fruits or vegetables just to be thrown away afterward. This ban has not really helped and the country is literally being invaded by plastic.
The National Park de la Langue de Barbarie
You can see the famous Boab tree with unusual black strips in its crown, moved by the wind. It covers vast areas and mixes with organic and other waste. The expansion of plastic can be seen everywhere, not only on the beaches but slowly but surely this plastic wave is moving inland. It has reached the National Park de la Langue de Barbarie where it suffocates birds and turtles. The plastic contaminates the salinas of fisher port Gandiol and has even ruined the Bahia of the capital Dakar. It has become a waste dump of domestic and industrial leftovers.
There is the idea of a combined project between the World Bank and the local government to construct a recycling plant at the biggest waste dump of the city. But the situation in the country is unsustainable and therefore requires a much bigger and ambitious action plan.
The African continent seems to be one of the most affected ones. They are not the main producers of plastic, but modern life is invading them with all the plastic which is included. 10 Countries have already banned plastic bags but there is no means to treat this avalanche of plastic waste. Plastic not only covers the shorelines of the coasts along the Atlantic Ocean, the problem affects coastlines of the Indian Ocean as well.
Cattle feed on plastic
In Kenia, the roadsides are covered with windblown plastics where cattle graze freely. Authorities have communicated that of 10 sacrificed animals at least 3 had plastic pieces in their stomach. Last year, after the prohibition of using plastics, this level is down to only 1 in 10 animals which have Polyethylene (plastic) inside. The old colony of Britain used to distribute 100.000.000 of plastic bags a year. When these bags are abandoned, it will take a total of 500 years to decompose.
The government of Nairobi and the Al Shabaab (the Islamic militia), have both taken measures to stop the plastic from advancing. The guerilla force has been called, ironically, the first ecological jihadist organization.
Ruanda, some 10 years ago, was the pioneer with a strict prohibition on plastic to try and help save cattle and the obstruction of the waterways. This gave a boost to the paper industry. Severe control measures were put in place to check on businesses and hotels.
Climate Change and Consumerism
One has to take 2 important things into account. First comes climate change resulting in less water and more desert. On the other side, we have consumerism which creates more waste. All this causing an environmental catastrophe. It can be observed that the desertification of the total region goes parallel with the contamination.
Between 1990 and 2015 Worldwide 8.300 million tons of plastic were produced. Of this huge amount, only 9% was recycled.
10 Million bags are produced each minute. One thinks that by the year 2030 the world will produce 619 million tons of plastic.
Millions of birds and 100 million sea mammals die each year because they eat plastic or are entangled and suffocate. The plastic pollution in the seas also impacts the fish and shellfish population and this is a direct link to the food source of the human species. Fish that consume plastic continues to reach our dinner tables. No, you may not be able to see the plastic in the fish but the by-product of the biological decomposition of plastic can be deposited in the muscle mass of the fish. Nothing like a little polyethylene flavoring for your Flounder.
The Big Green Wall
An idea was born, some time ago, to make a big green wall to help control the expansion of the Sahara. Over the years this idea has been modified and changed. The implementing of the idea at a heightened speed could be a big help but for a project of this size, where the collaboration of many countries is required, is not so easy.
The poverty and wars which exist in African countries make it difficult for people to think outside of pure existence issues and they cannot afford the luxury of taking action to solve this problem. These people have other worries on their mind. Where will I find food today, will I survive another day, these are thoughts we normally do not think of. We will be more occupied with less serious things like getting the latest fashion dress, play that game of golf or go with our friends to see the new movie. Our worlds are so different, it is difficult to really understand what it means to live in such a country.
The health hazard of standing water
An added problem is when all this trash lands in the water clogging up the waterways. Standing water is the breeding environment for mosquitoes which can transmit Malaria or Dengue. Add to this the fact that the most common method of eliminating plastic is to burn it. When burning plastic, products such as Benzene, Toluene, Carbon Monoxide, Dioxins, and many, more harmful, compounds are released.
This is worrying data. 10 big rivers are responsible for 95% of the pollution of the oceans. This fact is very upsetting and calls for an urgent solution. This will not be easy as it means a re-education and a change of lifestyle for millions of people. The lack of funds to help coordinate this change is so often missing.
The polluted river Niger
Coming back to the Sahel, which is one of the areas worldwide with the least water treatment installations, its river Niger has become degraded. Having been an important area of biodiversity now, through uncontrolled petrol exploitation, it has turned into the most harmful river in the world. It is said that the African plastic plague has traveled and is now responsible for the degradation of the ecosystems in Mauricio and Seychelles.
Worldwide, there are ingenious people who have produced some amazing machines for cleaning up the environment. Do have a look at this video.
The second video is quite amazing. A huge ocean cleaner, do have a look.
Are there solutions to this problem?
It seems that the prohibition of plastic use is the best solution for the moment. Luckily there are people who have turned the plastic plague into something beneficial as the plastic is getting a second use. In Pikine, an area of Dakar, people have used plastic to make roofs and walls, helping them to construct their homes.
Source: Newspaper Sur, 4th of Aug. 2018. Article by Gerardo Elorriaga
Photo Source: Pixabay
Perhaps you like to read my other post on an unusual solution for plastic waste.