POLLUTANTS

Saving small islands from plastic pollution

In Summary
  • We recorded massive amounts of plastic waste along the beaches and shores, particularly the stretch from Old Town Lamu to Shela Beach
  • Previous studies and documentaries have demonstrated that plastics impede the reproduction and existence of marine life
Plastic bottles on a beach.
POLLUTANTS: Plastic bottles on a beach.
Image: FILE

Lamu archipelago, with its beautiful white sandy beaches, sand dunes, mangrove forest, and tranquility, is being threatened by poor waste management, and especially plastic pollution.

Lamu county has more than 60 islands, most of which are small in size; hence slight environmental degradation results in adverse effects on its social, economic, and ecological wellbeing.

Therefore, poor disposal of solid waste endangers the lives of people, animals, and aquatic life.

During an exploratory visit to Lamu and neighbouring islands in late January, we encountered several instances of poorly disposed waste, most of which were plastic wrappings and water and soda bottles. Lamu is hot; hence water and other cold drinks are in high demand. The majority of these products are packaged in plastic containers.

Similarly, we recorded massive amounts of plastic waste along the beaches and shores, particularly the stretch from Old Town Lamu to Shela Beach. The plastics are conspicuous during high tides as they float and when deposited ashore during low tides.

In most cases, we encountered donkeys, a significant identity, and a transport mode in Lamu, feeding on the poorly disposed of solid waste on land. While it is an environmental problem, it threatens the people’s socioeconomic livelihood sources as well.

Previous studies and documentaries have demonstrated that plastics impede the reproduction and existence of marine life. A United Nations Environment Programme article highlights plastic packaging, discarded anchor lines, and fishing nets among the many plastic items entangling turtles in the sea.

The ban on the use of single-use plastics in protected areas, which include beaches, seems inoperative yet. From our exploration, it is clear that there is no restriction and that everyone is free to carry their drinks in single-use bottles to the beach.

The sight of floating plastics alone was a nuisance. It then begs the questions, what should be done? What is being done to save such islands from losing their richness of biodiversity and identity? How can plastic pollution in oceans be addressed?

Notably, some youth groups and social enterprises in Lamu have ventured into regular beach cleanups, reusing and recycling single-use items and plastics.

For instance, we came across a long stretch of a wall made of wine/whiskey bottles and concrete and handmade arts made of plastic waste sold locally and internationally. Besides, we encountered tourists during different times and in separate locations collecting plastics during their walks.

Despite these actions, it seems there is an underlying factor behind the plastic pollution menace.

One assumption would be a lack of awareness and commitment to proper waste disposal among Lamu Island residents. This means the county government of Lamu should establish and promote capacity building initiatives that empower the community to reduce, reuse, recycle, and upcycle their wastes.

It is also fitting to help the locals realise that the ocean is one of their primary livelihood sources, meaning that ill actions on the land will impact marine ecology. If plastics find their way into the ocean, it jeopardises the community’s wellbeing.

Tourism, which is a strong pillar of Lamu’s economy, will no longer thrive. The promotion of a circular economy in waste management should be a primary aspect of addressing plastic pollution throughout the country. Responsible manufacture, reusing, and recycling of items need to be emphasised.

The ban on the use of single-use plastics in protected areas, which include beaches, seems inoperative yet. From our exploration, it is clear that there is no restriction and that everyone is free to carry their drinks in single-use bottles to the beach. What is not clear is whether the empty containers are taken to the designated disposal areas or are left floating away in the ocean.

Ultimately, the proper implementation of stipulated policies and regulations will streamline operations towards a circular economy. Working policies and regulations will oblige manufacturers to ensure any product being released into the market is within the legal and environmental standards of a given county or the country.

Operationalising and strengthening the polluter pays principle will significantly force polluters – individuals and manufacturers – to be extra cautious.

Thus, safeguarding small islands from plastic pollution should be an urgent priority. Installing workable waste management mechanisms, including viable policies, is indispensable.