Project targets marine plastic pollution – and policies

The Clean Shores Great Lakes project has been the response of Bahati Mayoma, a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, to growing concerns about marine plastic pollution and the devastating impact it has on fish and marine organisms.

As a researcher and assistant lecturer in aquatic ecology and pollution control, Mayoma wants to use the project to reduce the plastic litter influx into the region’s water bodies through citizen science, community awareness, and the circular economy.

The urgent need for action in Tanzania, and internationally, has been emphasised again by several recent studies. A report published by the World Bank in February titled, The Costs of Environmental Degradation from Plastic Pollution in Selected Coastal Areas in the United Republic of Tanzania, highlights that, in Tanzania, and Zanzibar, in particular, plastic pollution causes direct damage to ocean activities such as fishing, aquaculture, shipping, marine transport and tourism.

There is also an indirect impact on the environment such as a reduction of the ecosystem services provided by the ocean, as well as a decrease in the quality of marine ecosystems and habitat, reducing the value of the ocean’s overall environmental natural capital.

It also explains that the damage and potential remediation costs of marine plastic pollution are avoidable if actions are taken to prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean.

However, efforts to reduce the effect of plastic pollution on the country’s environment have included only a national campaign that started in 2016 to ban plastic carrier bags. In 2019, the campaign led to the Environment Management (prohibition of plastic carrier bags) Regulations of 2019. The regulations emphasise a ban on the import, export, manufacturing, sale and use of plastic carrier bags, regardless of their thickness.

Another study published in the PLOS-ONE journal in March titled, ‘A growing plastic smog, now estimated to be over 170 trillion plastic particles afloat in the world’s oceans – Urgent solutions required’, found that today’s global ocean plastic particles abundance is estimated at approximately 82 to 358 trillion plastic particles weighing 1.1 to 4.9 million tonnes.

Researchers of the study observed no clear detectable marine plastic pollution trend until 1990, a fluctuating but stagnant trend from then until 2005, and a rapid increase until the present.

“This observed acceleration of plastic densities in the world’s oceans, also reported for beaches around the globe, demands urgent international policy interventions,” the study says.

Timely intervention

This is why the Clean Shores Great Lakes project is a necessary and timely intervention.

Phase one of the project began in February this year and ended in April, with an aim to reduce anthropogenic and, especially plastic, litter along the Tanzanian shorelines of the African Great Lakes (including Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa) via a coordinated campaign of annual clean-ups, the mobilisation of local communities as environmental ambassadors through participatory involvement in clean-ups, the collation of data to categorise (plastic) litter to pinpoint hotspots and sources; and the use of data-led advice to regional and national policymakers on mitigation strategies.

‘Anthropogenic’ refers to things related to or created by human beings. It is usually used to describe the impact of human activity on the natural environment.

“Currently, implementation has been done on Lake Victoria in Mwanza City and Ukerewe Island, Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma municipality, and Lake Nyasa in Kyela District. All three are major African Great Lakes (AGLs), and all other transboundary resources need joint solutions to address marine plastic pollution,” Mayoma told University World News.

The project is funded by the Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund (HMF), Norway’s largest private environmental fund that supports national and international projects to reduce plastic pollution, increase recycling, and reduce the use of plastic bags, which champions SDG 14, with the goal to sustainably conserve oceans and marine resources, and SDG 6 that aims to sustainably manage water resources and access to safe water and sanitation that are essential for unlocking economic growth and productivity.

Implementing partners are the Norwegian Research Centre, or NORCE, the University of Dar es Salaam, the Environmental Management and Economic Development Organization, or EMEDO, and ARENA Recycling Industry.

Community support

In terms of achievements so far, in some areas where the project was implemented, the model was adopted and the community continues to organise regular clean-up activities. The authority collaborated with the project to enhance community awareness of marine plastic pollution.

Additionally, more than 300 people have registered to take part in the circular economy training to actively engage in reducing plastic waste reaching the landfill and a policy brief will be developed and presented to the environment ministry and other key stakeholders upon completion of data compilation.

“University students are engaged in the project in many ways, including training as volunteers to carry out clean-up activities as well as creating awareness on recycling. We also conduct debates and dialogue with students to encourage them to develop innovative ideas for stopping marine plastic waste pollution,” said Mayoma.

“Students are also sensitised to abandon cultures that contribute to plastic pollution. Over 100 students, mostly volunteers, train the community on waste segregation and brand auditing,” he added.

According to Mayoma, the project has encountered some challenges in implementation, such as weather conditions, especially rainfall which sometimes cuts short clean-up activities, as well as the reluctance of the community to show up, particularly in areas where there is a daily to monthly waste collection fee.

“The community thinks that, as long they pay money for waste collection, they are not responsible for keeping their environment clean,” Mayoma said.

Research essential

Mayoma said that, in a continuous effort to curb marine plastic pollution, other universities across Africa should, first of all, conduct thorough research and share knowledge on the extent of marine plastic pollution and the associated ecological and health effects.

He added that phase two of the project will begin in August to October this year, with a focus on clean-ups and dialogue.

“Secondly, over 36% of plastic comes from single-use plastic used in packaging industries, including fast food, which is commonly used by university students. Therefore, influencing students to change their behaviour will help reduce plastic influx into the environment and water bodies,” he noted.

Amidou Sonko, a lead author of another study published in the ScienceDirect journal this year (on assessing a West African City on levels of marine microplastics and microbiologic contamination) and a post-doctoral fellow at the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development in Senegal, said: “Academics have a double role in fighting plastic pollution.

“They should convince and influence policymakers and decision-makers constantly on the importance of rationalising plastic production, and also extensively set up training courses and workshops on the need to end marine plastic pollution.”