US plastic manufacturers eye Africa despite eradication efforts

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    The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has lobbied the US government to use the US-Kenya trade agreement to expand the nation’s plastics industry footprint across Africa.

    Documents obtained by Unearthed — Greenpeace’s investigative journalism platform — show that the same lobby group, which counts Shell, Exxon, and Total among its members, also lobbied against changes to the international Basel Convention, which put new limits on plastic waste entering low and middle-income countries. 

    “Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying U.S.-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement.” The ACC also calls for the lifting of limits placed on the plastics waste trade, which experts believe would circumvent the new Basel Convention rules. The ACC wrote to US Trade Representative officials.

    In a separate letter to the Chairman of the US International Trade Commission, the ACC states that the trade agreement will be an “important model” for other African states. The letter reads, “With this foothold, the United States can play an influential role in shaping trade policy across Africa,” and that it will enable the US to “build a platform for U.S. chemical manufacturers to expand exports to enter new growth markets throughout sub-Saharan Africa.”

    “Africa is at the forefront of the war on plastics, with 34 out of 54 countries having adopted some regulation to phase out single-use plastic. The Kenyan government should not backslide on the progress made in its plastic-free ambitions by folding to pressure from fossil fuel giants, because it stands to derail the progress made across the entire continent,” said Fredrick Njehu, Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor.

    The efforts by the ACC would undo the progress that Kenya and other African states have made to address plastic pollution. Kenya passed one of the toughest laws on the production, sale, and use of plastic bags in 2017, and recently expanded on it to outlaw plastics in protected areas.  Oil companies, including Shell, Exxon, and Total — alongside consumer goods companies like PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, are members of the industry’s Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which has committed to spend $1 billion toward waste management efforts to prevent plastic pollution in places like Africa and Asia. Despite these public commitments, the ACC, which represents some of these companies, argued in the documents that such infrastructure will require continued plastic exports because a circular economy requires ample feedstock.

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