Plastic recycling in Africa

The rising volume of waste generated and which must be collected and disposed of necessitates ever-increasing funds to handle it, as well as growing environmental problems caused by massive dumpsites that are not adequately managed and so harm the environment. Recycling recyclable waste goods or re-usable materials from municipal waste streams has become a significant source of income for many individuals in developing nations who are unable to acquire regular work. In Africa, informal salvaging, also known as scavenging, on garbage sites is common due to the vast quantities of recyclable products arriving in the waste at dump sites and poses health problems for people who engage in it.

Plastic is currently at the top of the international trash management agenda. In the plastics sector, recycling is one of the 3Rs (reduce, recycle, reuse) that continues to contribute to resource utilization. Recycling provides opportunities to minimize the amount of plastic solid waste (PSW) disposed of, carbon dioxide emissions, and oil consumption. Although plastic recycling has been available for decades, the amount recycled varies depending on the use and kind of plastic.

Parties to the Basel and Stockholm Conventions have expressed concern about the effect of plastic waste, marine plastic litter, and microplastics, emphasizing the importance of reducing consumption and ensuring ecologically sound waste plastic management. Between 1990 and 2017, 33 African countries imported approximately 86.14 metric tons (Mt) of polymers in primary form and 31.5 Mt of plastic products, totalling $285 billion, with Egypt (43 Mt, 18.7%), Nigeria (39 Mt, 17.0%), South Africa (27 Mt, 11.7%), Algeria (26 Mt, 11.3%), Morocco (22 Mt, 9.6%), and Tunisia (22 Mt, 9.6%) receiving the highest share (16 Mt, 7.0%). In addition, between 2009 and 2015, primary plastic production in eight African nations generated 15 Mt.

Recycling and energy recovery is still in their infancy in Africa, but initiatives have begun in a few nations. The discharge of harmful compounds can occur as a result of improper use and disposal of waste plastics, which is aided by the open burning of waste plastics from automobiles and cables. In Africa, there are few regulations on plastic additives and other chemicals in products.

Weak organizational structures, a lack of relevant skills, inadequate resources, weak legislation, lack of enforcement, low public awareness, corruption, conflict, political instability, and a lack of political will are some of the current reasons for Africa’s poor waste management.

A governance failure is at the root of the problem. At the CEO Africa Forum in Kigali in March 2019, a group of international consumer products businesses operating in Africa, including Diageo, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company, and Nestlé, formed the Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance. By improving the collection and recycling of plastics, this Alliance hopes to turn the existing burden of plastic waste in Sub-Saharan Africa into an opportunity to create jobs and economic activity.

Which Plastics Can Be Recycled?

1.    Polystyrene is a synthetic polymer manufactured from the liquid petrochemical styrene monomer. It is a thermoplastic that becomes soft when heated and may be transformed into a variety of end products via semi-finished products such as films and sheets. Polystyrene is a plastic that is rarely recycled. A few examples of such plastics are foam cups used for hot drinks, plastic cutlery and containers. Thermal insulation, thermometers, license plate frames, camera or video cassette casings, and other items can be made from it.

2.   Polypropylene is a polymer material that belongs to the ‘polyolefin’ (alkene-based polymers) family. This type of plastic is commonly found in some yoghurt containers, medicine bottles, and straws. It is a very adaptable and durable material with a wide range of physical qualities. Battery cases, signal lights, battery cables, plastic brooms, brushes, ice scrapers, oil funnels, and bicycle racks are all examples of products that can be recycled.

3.    Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is a thermoplastic derived from the ethylene monomer. Imperial Chemical Industries produced the first grade of polyethylene in 1933 using a high-pressure free radical polymerization technique. Containers, dispensing bottles, wash bottles, tubing, plastic bags for computer components, and different moulded laboratory equipment are among the most common uses for Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE). 
4.    Vinyl, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is a type of plastic that can be found in everyday goods such as bottles and home siding. Because of the material’s intrinsic chlorine concentration, as well as the variety of chemical additions used to increase material stability and variety in usage features, the disposal and recycling procedure for PVC is hazardous to varying level of degrees. Piping, decking, fencing, gutters, and garden hoses can all be made from it.
5.    HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) or PEHD (High-Density Polyethylene) is a flexible plastic polymer with a wide range of uses. High-density polyethylene has a higher specific density than low-density polyethene, as the name indicates, although the difference is small. HDPE is a chemically resistant material, which explains its widespread application in healthcare and laboratory settings. It is resistant to several acids, alcohols, aldehydes, esters, bases, and oils. It can be recycled into floor tiles, buckets, bins, and crates, flower pots, and garden edging, among other things.
6.    PET (Polyethene Terephthalate) is a type of polyester that is extremely reusable. It’s a plastic produced out of enhanced ethylene glycol and refined terephthalic acid. In the 1940s, Dupont chemists were the first to synthesize it in North America. It can be converted into carpets, sweatshirts, comforter fill, tote bags, food, beverages (containers), and non-food containers, among other things.
Some of the benefits of recycling plastics are pollution in and around ecosystems should be reduced. It uses less energy and helps to preserve natural resources, reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, reduces the demand for fossil fuels, reducing trash and emissions of greenhouse gases.

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