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Youth-led solutions to a 75,000 tonne per year problem

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A member blog post by

Andrew Dickie, Project Officer

2050 Climate Group

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This article blog was written by Andrew Dickie, Project Officer for the Malawi-Scotland Partnership and 2050 Climate Group’s joint ‘Malawi Climate Leaders Project’. The project recruits young leaders across Malawi and invites them to attend regional and skills based workshops in order to engage and equip them with the resources to take action against key climate justice issues. Single-use plastic continues to be a huge problem in Malawi and our young leaders are at the heart of its solution. 

When I arrived in Salima, a bustling coastal town ninety minutes East of Lilongwe, Lake Malawi was already alight with deep auburn and piercing yellows. For locals well acquainted with her golden sunsets, it distracted few eyes as they walked the shoreline on their way home or to the market. For me, an overly eager Masters student from Scotland travelling around the country, I allowed myself to be consumed by the Warm Heart of Africa’s daily spectacle.

I think back to that moment now with an air of melancholy – partly because the current global pandemic has prevented me from returning to Malawi on a scheduled work trip. Yet, Covid-19 aside, that moment in Senga Bay was tainted by the sun’s rays hitting off the water, illuminating thousands of plastic bags that bobbed alongside fishing boats or that lay discarded along the beach.

Since that trip last summer, the Department for Environmental and Rural Affairs has been successful in implementing a ban on single-use plastic bags. Of course, this followed a vicious and long drawn out legal battle against an injunction obtained by largescale plastic manufacturers operating within Malawi and throughout South-East Africa.

Seven months have past since that legislation came into force and manufacturers are still producing single-use plastics, marketplaces continue to package items in thin plastic bags and streets and beaches remain littered.

The lack of political will in Malawi to follow through with this legislation is relatively understandable. Given the country’s unstable political makeup and increasing civic demand for electoral reform, it’s unsurprising that government officials have not prioritised the closing down of single-plastic factories – particularly given that many of the players behind them have the power to influence political discourse.

It’s easy to feel discouraged, but after a morning spent on the phone with some of our young leaders in Malawi, I’m more than optimistic that the country will be able to reduce its single-use plastic consumption through people and community-led initiatives.

One of our Young Leaders, Brenda Mwale, tells me about a series of negotiations and advocacy work she has carried out with many of the big business players in Malawi.

Speaking at a meeting with the United Nations Development Programme, Brenda stresses the importance of pressurising businesses and organisations to reform or implement internal green-focussed policies. Small changes, even such as banning single-use plastic bottles or products at meetings or events, can make an immeasurable difference.

In the South of the country another Young Leader, David Samikwa, blows me away with his ambition to lead an entrepreneur-focussed response to the problem. He maintains that information dissemination is key to the solution.

Working with four other young leaders, David buys brown papers from local retailers and produces paper bags to sell at low-cost to small businesses and community members. He is adamant that through engaging with civil society and educating people on the dangers of continued single-plastic use, alongside providing alternatives, Malawians can and will turn the tables.

Mentors, like Dominic Nyasulu who sits on the project’s steering committee, have provided a platform for our young leaders’ voices to be heard and to learn new skills. It is Dominic’s vision to launch four green centres in Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Blantyre and Zomba to engage and employ young women to be a part of the manufacturing of multi-use bags and information dissemination within communities.

Of course, the situation in Malawi is not a unique one. However, the ambition of our young leaders to drive forward change and lead on their individual and collective action plans is inspiring. It is a stark reminder that this generation, who will be impacted most by climate change, are at the forefront in the fight against it.

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