Decreasing the usage of plastic and increasing its recycling is the aim of a resolution being presented at a United Nations Environment Program conference that opens Monday in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. According to the UNEP, 300,000 tons of plastic are produced yearly, and only 10 percent recycled, contributing to environmental pollution that, according to the UNEP, is reaching critical levels.
On the Dandora dumping site in Nairobi, visitors can see a hilly landscape full of decades of garbage and plastics generated from the city. People are sifting through the smelly waste with their bare hands, looking for something to sell or eat.
On this particular day, the site gets a visit from Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, along with the UNEP assembly president, Espen Barth Eide. They are inspecting piles of blue and transparent plastics that are baking in the sun. According to the UNEP, only 10 percent of global plastic production is recycled, while the rest risks polluting the environment. The UNEP says plastics even enter the human body. Espen Barth Eide took a blood test.
“We found nano plastic traces and also phthalates, a chemical product that we use to soften plastic, in my blood, and I don’t think my blood is unique and I think this is true for all of us on the planet,” said Eide.
The UNEP is looking for a solution to the issue of increased plastic waste collection, preventing it from ending up in nature or on dumping sites.
Twenty-year-old Isaac is a garbage picker on the Dandora dumping site. He collects a lot of plastic here for selling, like bottles, known here as chupas.
“Even bottles, chupas of soda. These plastic papers and plastic chupas like water, Omo, yogurt, all of it,” he said.
The UNEP’s Andersen says a lot more plastic will have to be collected for recycling purposes to keep the environment clean.
“We understand we need plastic. We take it from the belly of the Earth with hydrocarbon, said Andersen. "We make it into plastic. But once it is in the economy, let us not put it back into the environment; let us keep it in the economy.”
At a recycling plant in Nairobi, plastic waste is turned into polythene bags and bricks which are offered on the market. It can be seen as a sign that the process has started, but for the UNEP, it must be accelerated for a cleaner world.