“Plastics will remain an important packaging material if we are to give African consumers the safe and affordable products they need.” This was the introductory statement from the Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance launched by some international consumer goods companies operating across Africa, including Diageo, Unilever, The Coca Cola Company, and Nestlé. But there is nothing safe about drinking from plastics.
A test conducted by the State University of New York in Fredonia discovered that 93 percent of bottled water samples evaluated showed some signs of contamination with microplastics. Even Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical which is used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans has been found to act like estrogen in the body and potentially change the timing of puberty, decrease fertility, increase body fat, and affect the nervous and immune systems.
Quite alright, Coca-Cola can argue that they have bottles made from an inexpensive and lightweight plastic called the polyethylene terephthalate or PET which has been said to be safe despite increasing attention to traces of phthalates, a chemical that makes plastic flexible. Phthalates affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity, and contribute to cardiovascular diseases. Regardless of the presence or absence of phthalates in PET bottles, all plastic bottles have been proven to be harmful to the environment.
According to the Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance, “A lack of collection and recycling capacity in many African markets coupled with growing populations is creating a growing problem of plastics waste. We see an opportunity to tackle that problem in a way that creates jobs and reduces dependency on imported materials while alternatives to plastics are developed.”
Like the African Plastics Recycling Alliance, some industry specialists say plastics are not causing a trash problem. Others say that the kind of plastics might be the cause of the plastic overflow, and given the lack of recycling culture, especially in many African markets, some other specialists have proffered biodegradable plastic—plastics that can be broken down by microorganisms (bacteria or fungi) into water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and some bio-material exist—as a lasting solution to the waste problem.
Plastic makes up around 13 percent of the waste stream, representing 32 million tons of waste, and just about 9 percent of these plastic goes into recycling programs. The remainders enter landfills and seas where it takes up space and often hurts wildlife.
Each year, over 8 million tonnes of plastic go into the oceans. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world. The sea presently contains about 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy.
Analysis carried out by Greenpeace shows that top beverage brands produce the greatest numbers of plastic bottles. Each year, Coca-Cola produces more than 100 billion disposable plastic bottles that are used just once. The research notes that the top six drink companies in the world, who are also members of the African Plastic Recycling Alliance, use a combined average of 6.6 percent of recycled PET in their products.
Although these companies have a 11-year combined maximum goal of becoming totally committed to 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable and 25- 50 percent recycled plastic content/material, the best way to completely handle the waste caused by plastic is to first remove the plastic. Unfortunately, these companies would only eliminate plastic if it profits them.