Plastic & Waste Colonialism


GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. 

#BreakFreeFromPlastic is the global movement working to achieve a future free from plastic pollution. More than 12,000 organizations and individuals around the world have come together to demand reductions in single-use plastics and to advocate for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP members work together to bring about systemic change by tackling plastic pollution across the whole value chain – from extraction to disposal – focusing on prevention rather than cure.

Plastic & Waste Colonialism

Plastic Policy in Africa:


Single-use plastic (SUP) bags represents one of the key contributing sources to plastic pollution that was initially intended for storage to make life easy and convenient for all, but has come at a heavy cost to to the environment and livelihoods of people through unsightly litter, threats to wildlife and livestock and risks posed to public health. Government policies that restrict plastic production is one way we can tackle this issue. Africa has made incredible strides in the fight against plastic, while not all bans on plastic have been effectively enforced, countries like Rwanda have championed strong enforcement to justify the reasoning behind placing a ban in the first place. Other African countries have also made significant contributions to stop the production and importation of single use plastic.

A legally binding global plastic treaty:

The global plastics treaty presents Africa with a historic opportunity to address the unique challenges the continent faces from the adverse impacts of the full lifecycle of plastics. At its first session, the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC1), requested the secretariat to prepare, for consideration by the committee at its second session, a document with potential options for elements towards an international legally binding instrument, based on the submissions of member states, to which 14 African countries submitted individual inputs in addition to the African Group submission on what will form the foundational objectives; core obligations, control measures and implementing elements for the global plastics treaty.

Waste Colonialism in Africa:

We have seen the effects of waste colonialism in the African continent. Where our natural resources have been depleted, to fuel corporate greed. Where our resources are returned to us, in the form of waste and cheap products made from toxic recycled materials. Where plastic waste has infiltrated its way into our land, oceans and physical bodies, severing our cultural connections with the earth and violating our rights to a clean and healthy environment. As Global South countries start closing down their borders to this unjust practice of waste dumping, we need to proactively guard against this happening in other parts of the world. The Global North cannot continue to export its waste problem onto the Global South, all countries need to take responsibility for how they produce and manage their waste.

We, as civil society, urgently demand that our African governments:

  1. Prevent plastic waste from being dumped into the region;
  2. Protect existing and new legislation that upholds our right to a safe, clean and healthy environment that is toxic-free;
  3. Exercise their right to refuse shipments through Prior Informed Consent (PIC), especially for hazardous and environmentally
  4. unsound plastic waste;
  5. Stringently enforce existing legislations like the Basel and Bamako conventions, which restrict and at times prohibit waste imports, and undertake swift return-to-sender actions on illegal shipments;
  6. Adopt national systems that allow waste pickers to be part of all decision making processes in waste management;
  7. Invest in the ongoing discussions around a global plastic treaty, to ensure that it reflects the local plastic pollution realities within the region and that attempts are made to address the problems of plastic across its entire value chain, especially through a strict cap on the production of new plastic.

Zero Waste & Climate

Waste picker organising in Africa:

Waste pickers around the world face similarities in the challenges they encounter. This includes the common need for official recognition from national and municipal governments, safe and healthy working conditions, Personal Protection Equipment, improved payment for their recovered materials/ collection/ processing services, and an end to social stigmatisation. The experiences of waste picker organisations from Latin America, Asia and South Africa show that these needs are achievable by building representative organisations to ensure their voices are heard in negotiations with governments and society.

Organised waste picker groups require waste pickers to work collaboratively and embed the principles of democracy, equality and environmental justice in their organised structures.

Resources on Waste Picker Organising

Benefits of Waste Picker Organising Video Series: 

This four-part video series focuses on the benefits of waste pickers organising themselves into associations, and features Musa Chamane and Asiphile Khanyile of groundWork, Magdalena Donoso of GAIA Latin America and the Caribbean, Simon Mbata and Madi Koena of the South African Waste Pickers Association, Sonia Dias of WIEGO, Satyarupa Shekhar of Break Free From Plastic, 

Veronica Hollela of Nipe Fagio and Desmond Alugnoa of GAIA Africa. 

The topics for each episode include: 

Case Study: Strengthening Waste Picker Organising in Africa 

This is a case study that shares the experiences of waste pickers from South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Zambia on waste picker organising in their countries. 

The EcoView Podcast on Strengthening waste picker organising in Africa: 

In this episode the late Simon Mbata of the South African Waste Pickers Organisation chatted to Dorothy Otieno from the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development and John Chweya from the Kenya National Waste Pickers Welfare Association about waste picker organising in Africa.

Waste Pickers in Kenya: The Centre for Environment Justice and Development (CEJAD), works with local waste pickers in Kenya. The organisation facilitates and trains individuals on the benefits of

self-organising, workers’ rights, legal provisions, and opportunities associated with their line of work. With the support of CEJAD, waste pickers from Kisumu, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Nakuru have formed associations in Kenya. Learn more about the journey by watching the video.

How can civil society support the work of wasteA pickers?

Civil society organisations can be critical partners for waste pickers. Drawing from the experiences of organisations across Africa, some of the support given to waste pickers includes: assisting the process of individuals organising themselves, amplifying waste pickers’ demands for respect, recognition and inclusion, providing capacity-building for any needed skills, and helping to address the pressing and immediate needs of waste pickers, such as health care needs and personal protection equipment.

Organisations do not speak for waste pickers or make decisions on how Democratic waste picker structures are run. Listen to this podcast episode on how civil society organisations can support the work of waste pickers. The episode features Maditlhare Koena (South African Waste Pickers Association) and Asiphile Khanyile (groundWork).

Waste Picker Webpage

A Day in the Life of A Waste Picker. Day in the life of a waste picker is a photo essay series that takes us through the daily lives of waste pickers in 4 different African communities. You can view these images in our 3d virtual gallery.

Zero Waste Projects in Africa:

  • ERA/FOEN Zero Waste Model in Nigeria. Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has focused its efforts on promoting our zero-waste model more vigorously. The model has great appeal and enables the potential for a shift from plastic utilization and a move towards separation at source, composting, recycling, and waste reduction mechanisms in communities where the model is situated. The initial process was initiated in 2021 in Edo and Akwa Ibom States, Nigeria. As a result of our work with our Zero Waste Ambassadors in 2022, we are excited that plans have been put in place to start similar schemes in four additional states, these include Delta, Lagos, Bayelsa, and Plateau. This will bring the total number of states we are working in, to six.The project has successfully created three critical structures; it includes the Zero Waste Ambassadors; the Waste Parliament, which is an informal structure but the decision-making organ of the project; and the Zero Waste Academy, which is the platform for strategic capacity building. Read More Here. 
  • ZWASA’s zero waste model in the Western Cape South Africa. The Cape Agulhas Municipality and the Zero Waste Association of South Africa (ZWASA) have embarked on an innovative Zero Organic Waste to Landfill Pilot Project in Bredasdorp, a small town located in the Western Cape of South Africa, with the ambitious goal to divert 100% of organic waste from the landfill by the year 2027. The group is working towards becoming the first zero waste town in the country by implementing several key strategies. Firstly, the separation of organic waste at source, to prevent the cross-contamination of materials and increase the number of recycled products.Households in the pilot area are provided with compostable bags, to separate organic waste; green bags, to separate garden waste; recycled clear bags for recyclable materials; and a wheelie bin for residual waste. Read More Here. 
  • Nipe Fagio, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania has implemented a zero waste model that combines separation at source, organic waste management and recycling into a decentralised framework. This model will aim to generate jobs for vulnerable groups, increase waste collection and waste management in low-income communities, reduce open burning of waste and dumping, increase the rate of waste being diverted from landfills – at no additional cost to municipalities and create awareness on the improved benefits of improved waste management. Read More Here.
  • GAYO Zero Waste Model in Ghana. In the Ashanti region, Ghana, specifically New Edubiase, GAYO is able to collect 90% of organic waste from households. Organic waste is very important to GAYO because it is a major contributor of greenhouse gases when it is sent to landfills. With this particular organic waste collected, they are  to because able to convert them to products like compost, which farmers can utilize to produce organic crops. Watch Video Here.

Zero Waste to Zero Emissions: How Reducing Waste is a Climate Gamechanger. A new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) provides the clearest and most comprehensive evidence to date of how better waste management is critical to the climate fight, while building resilience, creating jobs, and promoting thriving local economies. Read the full report here.