Reducing the use of plastic and increasing its recycling is the aim of a resolution presented at a conference of the United Nations Environment Program which opens on Monday in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. According to UNEP, 300,000 tonnes of plastic are produced each year, and only 10% is recycled, contributing to environmental pollution which UNEP says is reaching critical levels.
At the Dandora landfill site in Nairobi, visitors can see a hilly landscape filled with decades of waste and plastics generated by the city. People sift through smelly waste with their bare hands, looking for something to sell or eat.
That day, the site received a visit from Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, as well as the President of the UNEP Assembly, Espen Barth Eide. They inspect piles of blue and transparent plastic baking in the sun. According to UNEP, only 10% of the world’s plastic production is recycled, while the rest risks polluting the environment. UNEP claims that plastics even enter the human body. Espen Barth Eide took a blood test.
“We found traces of nanoplastic and also phthalates, a chemical we use to soften plastic, in my blood, and I don’t think my blood is unique and I think that’s true for all of us on the planet,” Eide said.
UNEP is seeking a solution to the problem of increasing the collection of plastic waste, preventing it from ending up in nature or on landfills.
Isaac, 20, is a waste picker at the Dandora landfill. He recovers a lot of plastic here to resell it, like bottles, called here chupas.
“Even bottles, chupas of soda. These plastic papers and these plastic chupas like water, Omo, yogurt, all that,” he said.
UNEP’s Andersen says a lot more plastic will need to be collected for recycling to keep the environment clean.
“We understand that we need plastic. We take it from the belly of the Earth with hydrocarbons, Andersen said. “We make plastic out of it. But once it’s in the economy, let’s not put it back into the environment; let’s keep it in the economy.”
At a recycling plant in Nairobi, plastic waste is transformed into polythene bags and bricks which are offered on the market. This can be seen as a sign that the process has begun, but for UNEP, it must be accelerated for a cleaner world.