Moussa Ndoye, 28, drinks two plastic bags of fresh water in one gulp and throws them onto a Dakar beach. “This is our garbage can,” he laughs to his approving friends seated around tea in the shade of a large pirogue.
This careless gesture is one that countless of them make every day.
Empty transparent pouches the size of a pocket are everywhere, especially in these months when the temperature doesn’t drop below 30 degrees. On Hann beach, they mingle with a mass of garbage drained by the foul-smelling waters of faulty drains. They litter the edges of stadiums and the foot of building sites. Nobody pays any attention.
“There’s a lot of it on the beach, and it’s some of the plastic waste we see the most,” says Pape Diop, head of an environmental protection association. They’re practical, readily available in shops and from street vendors, and cheaper than bottles. They’re part of everyday life, even for the large fishing guild.
Before, “fishermen used to take cans out to sea to drink. Now they use water sachets, then throw them away. The waste all ends up here (on the beach) because the sea rejects it”, reports Mr. Diop.
These bags are a common consumer product in a number of other African countries, including Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. They are banned in Kenya and Rwanda, under bans on single-use plastics dating back to 2017 and 2019.
Senegal itself passed a similar law in 2020. It has remained a dead letter as far as water sachets are concerned. Uganda is in a similar situation.
– Covid effect –
As a result, quantities of sachets end up in the street, growing on Dakar’s concrete or disappearing in the sand that is ubiquitous even in the city. Public garbage cans are non-existent. Cleaning leaves much to be desired, and recycling is in its infancy. More than 250,000 tonnes of plastic are thrown away every year, and only around 30,000 tonnes are recycled, according to a report by the Ministry of Urban Planning in 2022.
According to environmentalist Professor Adams Tidjanis, these bags take 400 years to decompose into microplastics.
Not only do they pollute water, they also clog drains and contribute to the flooding that afflicts Dakar residents every year. It’s common for them to be burned, releasing toxic fumes.
The law passed in 2020 complemented 2015 legislation that outlawed the sale of fine plastic bags, but was hardly enforced. The new text targeted single-use and disposable plastics, such as straws for drinks or packaging in retail outlets.
The authorities almost immediately granted exceptions, including water sachets. Senegal was in the midst of Covid-19, and the restrictions were having a severe impact on the population, a large proportion of whom were living from hand to mouth. The government decided to relax the application.
Khadidjatou Dramé, in charge of legal affairs at the Ministry of the Environment, admits that “our socio-economic realities do not allow us to move towards a total ban”.
Thousands of people are employed in manufacturing, whether in small-scale or industrial units, and in distribution.
Text and photo: AFP
In Humaniterre media de l’humanitaire et du développement durable