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Be the solution to ocean pollution

by Donna Reynolds

I recently found myself in the small town of Ushuaia, Argentina - the southernmost city on Earth and aptly known as "The End of The World". On my third day there, I was one of over 150 people from all over the world who took part in a beach clean-up led by the group named 2041 ClimateForce. While initially it seemed that the beach was fairly empty and free of litter, upon closer inspection, we could see hundreds and thousands of microplastics and other trash strewn among the pebbles. This is known as "Ocean-Bound Plastic" (OBP) - 'abandoned plastic waste' that is found within 50km of shores, where the waste management is non-existent or inefficient. It is estimated that OBP generates 80% of plastic marine litter. In less than two hours, our team was able to collect around 500kg of trash and OBP and thereby prevent this waste from entering our oceans. OBP is a problem that affects us all, on all shores around the globe.

Some pieces of OBP are large enough to choke or suffocate animals on both land and shore, including birds, turtles and whales. Others are so tiny that they are accidentally eaten by fish and other creatures - which can be fatal to the sea-life that ingests it but can also be harmful to humans who then consume those fish and other creatures. Addressing the issue of OBP is contributing to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land). Certainly, it is vital that we do so, as OBP threatens the health and longevity of our oceans and their inhabitants, which we depend on for our survival. The ocean, and the myriad of sea-life that keep it healthy and functioning, are essential to us not only for providing us with food and other resources but for many other provisions, including the air we breathe, climate regulation, jobs, transportation for trade, and recreation.

Africa is not immune from plastic waste pollution. Plastic bags and other plastic wastes pollute the water bodies (lakes, rivers, and streams) of most towns and big cities. The coastlines are increasingly becoming the dumping sites of plastic waste. In some cases, the sources of waste are external, transported from the global north and dumped in the seawater of some African countries.

Progress is being made in the field of technologies that are sure to make significant positive changes in this regard. We can take the Enviro Buggy, a South African manufactured, self-propelled battery-operated buggy used to clean up plastic and other unwanted non-biodegradable materials on the ground in littered areas. Nonetheless, this is an area where small individual efforts can make a significant change.

There is a need for local, community-led action in the fight against plastic pollution and the protection of our oceans, and thus advocates for the SDGs. Accordingly, international organizations such as the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa (SDGC/A, need to play a vital role - in providing the necessary support for African governments, civil society, businesses and institutions to achieve the SDGs. The Center has the mandate of increasing the understanding in African countries of the role that good policy and legal frameworks can play in controlling and managing plastic waste, through sharing the experience of best-performing countries like Rwanda. Education, engaging and empowering communities and the next generation of leaders to take responsibility, consume and produce responsibly and sustainably, and to take action now, will enable them to become leaders in the realm of SDGs and advocates for our planet.


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