The interception, last May, of the German shipHansa Neuburgof the Hapag-Lloyd company by the customs services caused a stir in Senegal. While the law of January 8, 2020 stipulates the ban on imports of plastic waste into the country (1), the fifth largest shipowner in the world attempted to fraudulently introduce 25 containers (581 tonnes) from Spain.
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The Senegalese government immediately imposed a fine of 2 billion CFA francs (about 3 million euros) as well as the re-shipment to the source of the waste. The episode, however, underlined the growing interest of the West for the African continent, after China’s decision to drastically reduce its imports of certain waste.
“It is unacceptable to see Western companies making Africa a dumping ground for their plastic waste. They are the biggest polluters, so they have to take responsibility, protests Awa Traoré, ocean campaigner and pollution control campaigner at Greenpeace Africa. It is time to put an end to this colonization of waste which affects human dignity. “
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Already in 2019, a survey by Guardian revealed that Senegal, like other countries on the continent, received American plastic waste. “We called on the government, which denied the existence of legal contracts with American companies. But there was no investigation and we lack evidence ”, reports Fatma Sylla Touré, coordinator of the ecology program of the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.
The file has since been forgotten. However, partnerships between Senegalese and American private companies for the recycling of all types of waste, including plastic, do exist. “If imported products are not declared as “waste” but as “second-hand products”, they can easily fall through the cracks ”, underlines Babacar Dramé, director of the environment and classified establishments within the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who insists on the vigilance of customs.
According to Boniface Cacheu, coordinator of the legal unit at the same ministry, drafter of the law of January 8, 2020, the text must be adjusted by allowing imports of plastic, while “Laying down strict conditions: strengthening control systems, not accepting quantities greater than the country’s processing capacity, etc.“.
“Senegal is the only country in West Africa to have the infrastructure for recycling plastic waste. The problem remains dirty waste, too expensive to recycle. If imports are supervised, by accepting only clean waste, jobs can be created. Safeguarding the environment must not come at the expense of economic development“, he pleads.
Environmental activists worry
But environmental activists are concerned. “While local waste management is already a problem, how would it be possible to recycle waste from other countries? asks Fatma Sylla Touré. If developed countries themselves have difficulty recycling their waste, how can developing countries?“
In Senegal, apart from initiatives that have sprouted up in recent years, most of the waste is still dumped in open dumps or burned. A tiny minority is recycled thanks to informal workers. And, for the Greenpeace activist, receiving plastic waste from the West is also “reduce to nothing all the efforts made to fight against pollution ”.