By Gloria Majiga-Kamoto
One of my most favorite movies from my childhood is Pocahontas. The romantic part of it was ok, but I was always so taken by the depiction of the clash of two very different worlds in the movie. It is a story, on the one hand, of a greedy company that sets out on a mission to exploit a pristine world at any cost in search of wealth. On the other hand, it is a beautiful story of a young girl who teaches a stranger that there is a much higher value in life and in nature, and that it is priceless.
I come from Malawi, a beautiful country also known as the warm heart of Africa. Unfortunately, it is known more for its low development index than for its lake of stars, which has the highest number of fish species in all the world, or for the warmest people you will ever meet. In my country, we depend on the earth for food—agriculture is the driver of our economy, contributing over 30% of the Gross Domestic Product. Our forests provide wild mushrooms and fruits and a safe space to experience our traditions and cultural beliefs.
But the warm heart is losing its beauty. Blue is the new green as we have traded our beautiful flowers and leaves for little blue plastics that are now increasingly found in our homes, streets, rivers, and streams. These blue plastics also litter our fields and find their ways into the stomachs of livestock, which are the source of nutrition and livelihood for a population dependent on smallholder farming. Plastics are one of the most incredible inventions of our time but they are also equally disruptive and costly. I admittedly cannot imagine my life without plastic and the convenience it provides, BUT, looking around, one cannot ignore that we have a huge problem, and this convenience is costing us our environment, health, biodiversity, and ecosystems. And that is why I fought hard—and succeeded—to make our country’s ban on thin plastics a reality.
Today, I am honored to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize on behalf of many civil society organisations and individuals who took a stand against these companies and their devastating contribution to environmental damage across Malawi. Through our collective efforts and support for the legal case, the national thin plastics ban was reinstated. Together, we challenged the idea that these companies can put a price tag on our environment and call that development.
“Together, we challenged the idea that these companies can put a price tag on our environment and call that development.”
In a recent Plastic Waste Makers Index report, the finding that the global plastic problem is fueled by a few companies is a huge disappointment but not a surprise. This global situation resonates within my own country, where a few companies decided to hold a population of more than 17 million people ransom for their own profits and gain. Malawi’s ban on single-use plastics encompasses the supply chain from the source to the the consumers; however, if there continues to be a steady supply of single-use plastics into the markets, it makes it much harder to regulate their use and manage the waste.
We may have won one battle, but the war on plastics in Malawi and across the world is far from over. We call upon YOU to help us hold companies accountable and support the full enforcement of the single-use plastic ban in Malawi by reporting illegal production and distribution of these plastics. We need to come together to call for policies that ensure that plastic manufacturers pay the full price of production through extended producer responsibility strategies in the long-term.
You can also support us in setting up sustainable waste management systems in our cities as we are currently doing in Blantyre on www.cepa.org.mw. You can also do your part in beating plastic pollution by helping us raise awareness of the plastic problem to your friends and neighbors, and by taking responsibility for your side of the mess by refusing plastic and reducing your amount of plastic waste.
Many years ago, Pocahontas inspired me, a little girl, to see development differently and to change the narrative about the relationship between nature and society. Our environment is not the price we should pay for development; it is the capital. In a sustainable development model, people and the planet can prosper together, and then we can all paint a beautiful future for us and the next generation with all the colors of the wind.
About the author:
Gloria Majiga-Kamoto is a program officer for the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy in Malawi. As a result of her grassroots activism and dedicated campaigning, in 2019 Malawi’s High Court upheld the ban on the production, importation, distribution, and use of thin plastics. Gloria won the Goldman Prize for Africa in 2021—the first Prize for Malawi.