Plastic and solid waste management have emerged as one of the greatest global threats to public health and the environment. International and regional instruments were developed to address the growing concern and challenges emanating from movement and disposal of toxic waste. One fundamental international instrument is the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal that was adopted in 1989, and creates obligations for States parties (including Zimbabwe) to ensure that waste is managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.
The United Nations Environment Assessment (UNEA) also made a resolution, ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument.’ Through this resolution, the Assembly agreed to set up an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to draft a legally binding agreement by 2024. The agreement is expected to address the full lifecycle of plastics, including production, design, and disposal, as well as the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials. At a continental level, African States are cognizant of the need to promote sound environmental management through pollution control, waste management and environmental education. Thus, African governments adopted the Bamako Convention whose objective is to prohibit the importation of all hazardous and radioactive wastes into the Africa, and to prohibit all ocean and inland water dumping or incineration of hazardous wastes.
In 2018, the World Bank reported that the world largest cities generate more than 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste annually and plastic material amounts to nearly a third. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) also recently indicated that 500 billion plastic carrier bags are used each year, which amounts to approximately 50% of consumer plastics. Due to the rapid rural to urban migration and constant population growth, the amount of plastic waste generation will skyrocket to an estimated 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.46 For Zimbabwe, poor plastic and solid waste management is also a growing challenge confronting urban and rural local authorities, policy makers and communities. Zimbabwe has an Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, which envisages ‘a safe, secure and sustainable solid waste management system that [will] transform Zimbabwe into a clean, healthy and environmentally friendly country. ‘There are also many legal and policy frameworks relevant to plastic and waste management. Chiefly among these, include inter alia; the Environmental Management: Effluent and Solid Waste Disposal Regulations, the Environmental Management, Plastic Packaging and Plastic Bottles Regulations, the Urban Councils Act and Rural District Councils Act,the Environmental Management Agency Strategic Plan (2021-2025), the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (2015-2020), the Harare Integrated Solid Waste Management Strategic Plan (2021- 2025) among others. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) attributed the 2005 floods in Harare to drainage systems blockages partially because of plastic carrier bags which consequently expose people to serious health hazards. According to the Zimbabwe State of Environment Report (2017), urbanization, lack of technical capacity and inadequate trained staff to effectively execute waste management functions within Council; local authority governance challenges relating to legal and policy gaps, inadequate waste management budgets for City Councils and municipalities are the key drivers of poor solid waste management. In addition, a study focusing on effectiveness of strategies used in Harare’s high-density suburbs such as Mbare, Budiriro and Highfield found that on average, a household produced 12.4 Kg/capita/day of household solid waste per week. About 50% (14961 kg/capita/day) of household solid waste is food leftovers, with paper and plastics also making a sizable portion of household waste. The study also found that there is no separation of waste at household level and only 10% of generated waste goes to recycling, composting, reusing and other value addition processes. Zimbabwe generates about 1.9 million tonnes of waste annually. Of this waste, plastic waste alone amounts to approximately 342 000 tonnes per annum, which is about 18 % of the total waste in Zimbabwe largely in the form of Low-Density Polythene (LDPE); High Density Polythene (HDPE); Polyethylene Terephthalate; Poly vinyl chloride and Polypropylene. Over 10 000 of plastics are imported annually while the rest are generated locally. Since 2010, plastics both locally generated and imported have contributed to the deaths of approximately 5000 animals. These animals include elephants, donkeys, cattle, sheep and goats. They have also contributed to the blockage of storm water drains and increasing the risk of flash floods and in urban and peri urban areas that has resulted in human deaths thereby affecting the right to life.
Plastics are also a source of pollution, and this affects the right to a clean and health environment. Local authorities in Zimbabwe have also been unable to provide sustainable refuse collection services due to constrained budgets and this has resulted in the mushrooming of refuse dumps at undesignated sites or places. Even if the collection of waste including plastics is done regularly, there are further challenges of ESM as Zimbabwe lacks engineered sanitary facilities for the disposal of waste. From this, it is evident that plastic waste and environmentally sustainable management are not just an environmental problem, but a serious human rights issue. Also, the increasing digital world (more so with the advent of COVID-19) has introduced a different kind of solid waste, electronic waste (e-waste). E-waste is a term used to describe old, end of life electronic appliances such as computers, laptops, TVs, DVD players, mobile phones, mp3 players that have been disposed by original users. According to reports, e-waste in most African countries is exported from Western countries.However, because e-waste has received limited attention from researchers, CSOs and relevant authority, there is limited knowledge on where the e-waste in Zimbabwe originates from, the extent of the problem as well as the dangers of e-waste in Zimbabwe. The local waste management regulations mentioned above does not even mention e-waste management. Therefore, it is imperative to address institutional capacity inadequacies within local authorities, non-enforcement of legal and policy framework on solid waste management as well as lobbying and advocating for the ban of non-essential single use plastics in Zimbabwe. There is also a need to ensure that Zimbabwe puts in place laws to regulate e-waste. On the demand side, there is need to raise awareness among communities to promote behaviour change around the need to ensure waste reduction, reuse, and recycling.