Senegal banned single-use plastics a year ago, but the regulation has been poorly enforced and plastic waste still litters the coastline and threatens health. For Earth Day (April 22) this year, a group of Senegalese surfers, scuba divers, and activists took matters into their own hands and to set an example for others to follow.
From bottles and bags to food wrappers and fishing nets, plastic waste is piling up on Senegal’s beaches, harming the environment that people and animals depend on.
Toxic chemicals from plastic leach into the water and can build up in fish, which are a vital part of the Senegalese diet.
Senegal’s Ministry of Public Health notes links between plastic pollution and infertility, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems.
“All of these products that are used by the industry can be dangerous," said Public Health director Dr. Marie Khémesse Ngom Ndiaye. "In terms of pollution, they can attack all of our organs, but equally those of animals. But especially, as you’ve seen in all these documentaries and studies, it impacts marine life.”
The Senegalese government passed a law in 2015 banning single-use plastics, but little changed.
The law was rescinded to make way for new legislation that specifically targeted plastic cups, straws, plates, bags and bottles. It went into effect in 2020, but it’s still rarely enforced.
“There is not necessarily enough information," said Aisha Conte, president of Zero Waste Senegal. "The population, the users, are not well enough informed about the existence of this law and its different statutes.”
To mark the anniversary of last year’s ban, and this year’s Earth Day, Dakar’s Barracuda Scuba Diving Club and activists held a coastal cleanup.
Clean Senegal’s Khadim Diouf wore a plastic costume while sorting the waste to underscore the need to make an impact.
“I think we can do it — us, the citizens of the world," he said. "I don’t just mean the citizens of Senegal, but the citizens of the world. Everyone must protect their environment. That’s what we must do.”
Until then, Diouf and other activists said they will continue to campaign for a cleaner Senegal.