Each year, 75,000 tons of plastic are produced in Malawi, of which 80% are single-use – the ones most likely to litter the landscape, clog waterways and drainage systems, and create breading grounds for mosquitos carrying malaria.
A recent government study found that the East African nation produces more plastic waste per capita than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa — and this has greatly overwhelmed its waste disposal systems.
Concerned about the environmental harm caused by mounting plastic pollution in Malawi, 30 year old Gloria Majiga-Kamoto mobilized a grassroots movement in support of a national ban on thin plastics, a type of single-use plastic.
“It became very personal for me after interacting with farmers,” she says. “Some of them are losing their livestock because once the animals get into the field, which is so heavily polluted with single-use plastic, they consume these plastics, which kill them, thereby affecting the livelihood of their owners.”
In Mponela town, in Malawi’s Central region, Majiga-Kamoto says around 40% of slaughtered livestock in the area were found to have ingested plastic fragments.
Majiga-Kamoto’s grassroots movement scored an early victory – a national ban on the production, distribution and importation of thin plastics. But the plastics lobby wasn’t about to give up easily.
Before the ban could be realized, the Malawi Plastics Manufacturing Association appealed the policy, and the court granted a stay order halting its implementation.
Majiga-Kamoto would not be defeated. She formed a coalition of activists and NGOs to compel the government toward implementation.
With the coalition, she advocated for the plastics ban in the news media and among journalists, documented livestock killed by plastic consumption, drawing affected farmers into the campaign, and brought on a public interest lawyer to join the case.
“We organized several marches — marched to the court and in communities to document their experiences and the challenges they encountered because of the plastic problem we have in the country,” Majiga-Kamoto told CNN.
After a protracted legal battle with plastic manufacturers, the Malawi Supreme Court upheld a national ban on the production, importation, distribution, and use of thin plastics.
In early 2020, they closed operations of three companies illegally producing thin plastics. In September 2020, the government impounded the plastic-making machinery of a company violating the ban and threatened a two-year jail sentence for the company director if violations continued.
Meanwhile, Majiga-Kamoto worries about Malawi’s inability to process recycled plastic waste.
“Malawi is very far behind. Recycling of waste requires technology and we do not have a lot of that technology,” she said.
Majiga-Kamoto is one of six global winners of the prestigious award for 2021, which honors grassroots environmental activists. More information and videos about the winners can be found on the Goldman Prize website – www.goldmanprize.org