By Eugene Atte, Head of Packaging at Nestlé Central West and Africa Region
The image of a tiny seahorse, its tail wrapped around a thrown-away cotton bud, floating in polluted waters would usually make headlines around the world.
For many people, it was a stark illustration of the extent to which plastic pollution is threatening our environment, particularly our oceans and coastlines. We are reminded of this powerful and disturbing photo from 2017 on this year’s World Environment Day, which is dedicated to the theme of ‘Beating Plastic Pollution’.
In Central and West Africa, the problem of plastic waste is a major environmental issue for many urban and peri-urban settlements. Ghana has a population of more than 28 million and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world today. A recent article in Quartz Africa reported Accra alone generates about 3,000 tonnes of waste a day. That is the equivalent weight of ten Boeing 747 airliners. It is why transitioning to a more circular economy on plastics in Ghana, and many other countries in the region and beyond, has such huge potential.
It is true that a lot of informal recycling already goes on, with many innovative small businesses and NGOs working on novel ways to reuse plastics. However, there is currently no major recycling infrastructure or related incentives in place to deal with this volume of waste.
At Nestlé, we are committed to playing an active role in the development of well-functioning collection, sorting and recycling schemes across all the countries where we operate through collaborating with other stakeholders. We not only believe we have to play our part, but we’re also doing something about it.
In April 2018, as a Group we set the bold ambition to make 100% of our packaging either recyclable or re-usable by 2025. Packaging is fundamental to our business. It plays a crucial role in delivering safe, high quality food to our consumers, as well as reducing food waste.
However, we must do more to make sure the packaging we use is sustainable. This includes: eliminating non-recyclable plastics, encouraging the use of plastics that allow better recycling rates, and eliminating or changing complex combination of materials, while always optimising the packaging we use.
This vision – for none of our packaging, including plastics, to end up in landfill or as litter – is global in vision but local in execution.
We are proud as a company to have made such an ambitious pledge, which is an essential part of enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future.
In Central and West Africa, we’ll be doing everything we can to get behind this effort. We’re proud to say that we are one of the founding members of the Ghana Recycling Initiative by Private Enterprises (GRIPE), supporting the government’s efforts in managing plastic waste. As one of eight members in the coalition, we’re working with other major industrial companies to integrate sustainable waste management solutions and advocate for improved waste management practices in Ghana.
Nestlé Nigeria is one of the 5 member companies of The Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA) which serves as the sector Producers Responsible Organisation under the Extended Producers (EPR) scheme.
This alliance has completed the development of a viable collection and recycling plan with initial focus on the major food and beverage packaging materials that pose significant challenge for the country’s national waste management system – PET bottles, plastic/nylon sachets and aseptic paper.
Nestlé Nigeria aims to contribute to increased collection and recycling rates across the country, provide employment opportunities through scalable recycling solutions, and engage with the government to help tackle the problem of plastic waste. At the same time, we continue to find ways to avoid the use of packaging where possible.
But this is just the beginning. The bigger ambition for Nestlé worldwide is to strive for zero environmental impact in our global operations by 2030.
By then, we hope the photos breaking news no longer highlight the negative impact of human activity on our environment, but show what can be achieved when we work together to shape sustainable consumption and steward resources for future generations.
We are glad to be showing the way. Everyone can be part of the solution to reducing plastics by taking individual or collective action.
Eugene says building the circular economy for plastics is vital for Central and West Africa.