Over the last few months, we have carried out a wide range of networking and knowledge exchange activities with key stakeholders for the transition to a circular plastic economy in Africa. These stakeholders include representatives from Digital Innovations firms, Start-ups, Civil Society, Governments, Policy Makers, Academia, Waste Management Organisations and Investors/Funders. Below, we highlight the main thematic areas of challenges covered in our stakeholder engagement programme. On the other hand, these challenges signpost potential areas of impact-making opportunities in the circular plastic economy:
The stakeholders identify funding as one of the major challenges they are grappling with. This includes lack of funding or lack of awareness of funding opportunities for research and development of innovations/solutions for sustainable plastic waste management. Although waste management initiatives are recognised as generally viable businesses in the medium to long term, start-ups in this sector are struggling to access start-up capital in the first few years to pilot their innovation before they can make a viable investment case for scaling.
The feedback from the stakeholders emphasise the need to address significant gaps and weaknesses in the policies and regulations for sustainable plastic waste management. This includes formulation, implementation and enforcement of policies. Participants observed that there were many good policies on waste management across the continent, but most of them lacked coordination and enforcement. One example is the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, where plastic producers play their part in post-consumer recovery. Stakeholders stressed the need for supportive legislation on recycled content . In addition, the participants noted that , mandating plastic producers to include recycled content, will drive demand as well as increase recycling rate. Furthermore, some of the current policies are not conducive for waste management personnel and start-ups. Finally, the stakeholders are in agreement that government incentives will be key in making progress and there is a need to strike the right balance between incentives and penalties.
Stakeholders highlighted lack of accurate data on plastic waste as a challenge in working effectively in this space, emphasising that it is difficult for industry players and stakeholders to manage what they cannot measure. Therefore, systems and/or technologies for capturing and tracking data on waste need to be developed. This data should include types, location, distribution, quantity collected, quantity recycled etc. Digital tools and innovations can play a vital role in this space.
Participants emphasised the need for awareness/education about sustainable waste management within the general public, especially the youth as they make up a large proportion of the population. Currently, the majority of the population do not see waste as a resource, and collectors still struggle to get enough plastics for recycling. Citizen education, community awareness initiatives and programmes for behavioural change will need to be developed and rolled out. These should go in tandem with appropriate policies.
Participants identified the lack of collaboration and coordination among different sets of stakeholders as a major challenge in making significant progress. There needs to be multi-stakeholder synergy and collaboration involving the government, businesses, academia, civil societies, local authorities and communities in both urban and rural areas. A platform that can facilitate this sort of engagement at the national levels is desperately needed. This could address the challenge of coordinating multiple stakeholders- waste producers, waste collectors, consumers, and ministries- who may need to work together, sometimes outside of their perceived responsibility.
There is a clear need to develop skills relevant for the circular economy. For example, introducing training in various technologies related to waste management, including behavioural change, can make a big impact within and across industry sub-sectors.
Stereotypes and Stigma
The socio-cultural dynamics of waste management was identified as a challenge, for example, plastic waste collection is mainly seen as a dirty job for the poor people. Also, social status plays a role in how people approach reuse and recycling. Stereotypes & Stigma about waste management needs to be eliminated.
The stakeholder events established that macro-level projects/initiatives are mainly dominated by males and micro projects by females. Similarly, while women are highly involved on the ground, they have limited opportunities in the decision-making processes for policies and strategies. These observed gender differences need to be addressed and there should be mainstreaming of gender balanced projects.
Alternatives to plastics
The invitation to invest in alternative packaging has not really gained much traction in spite of several innovations around the continent. For example, biodegradable packaging has been produced locally using banana and water hyacinth. However, this, and similar innovations, have not diffused across the continent.
Reuse and reduce
Majority of initiatives are focused on recycling, there needs to be increased activity on reducing and reusing plastics.
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