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Bioplastics: Paving the Way for a Greener Africa

Africa, despite its wealth of natural resources, faces significant challenges in plastic biodegradation research, leading to a rising tide of microplastic pollution. In Nigeria, only about 9% of waste is recycled, with 12% incinerated. The majority of waste ends up in landfills or the environment, where it resists degradation and threatens ecosystems. This highlights the urgent need for bioplastics as a viable solution.

The Prevalence and Impact of Plastic

Plastic infiltrates every facet of daily life, from electronics and water bottles to cars and children's toys. The global reliance on fossil fuel-derived plastics has created a substantial environmental burden. Overflowing landfills and plastic waste spilling into natural environments have polluted soils and water sources, creating an issue that demands immediate attention. Africa's plastic pollution is particularly acute, with plastic waste littering urban and rural areas, clogging city drainage systems, and harming wildlife across the continent.

For example, in Kenya's Diani Beach, plastic waste disrupts local tourism and fishing industries. In South Africa's Kruger National Park, animals frequently die from ingesting plastic. Marine life in the Cape Verde Islands, such as turtles and seabirds, often suffer injuries or death from entanglement in plastic debris.

Understanding Bioplastics

Bioplastics can be classified into two categories: bio-based and fossil-based, with the former derived from renewable resources like sugarcane, corn, wood, or glycerol.

One of the key advantages of bioplastics is their biodegradability, which describes their ability to decompose and disappear naturally over time. Biodegradable bio-based plastics such as PLA, Bio-PET, and PHA offer a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics, reducing the accumulation of non-degradable waste in Africa's natural environments.

For example, PLA, derived from corn starch or sugarcane, not only exhibits good biodegradability but also boasts suitable mechanical properties, making it ideal for applications in food packaging and disposable tableware. Similarly, Bio-PET, although partially derived from bio-based materials, contributes to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, thus mitigating the environmental impact of plastic production. PHA, produced through microbial fermentation, excels in biodegradability and offers diverse application potential, further supporting sustainable practices in Africa's manufacturing sector.

Market Potential and Growth of Bioplastics

Currently, bioplastic production capacity is vastly overshadowed by fossil-based plastics, holding a mere 1.05% market share in 2024. Globally, over four million tonnes of plastic are produced yearly, expected to rise to nearly five million tonnes by 2028. The four thousand tonnes of bioplastic may seem insignificant on this scale but is growing at an annual rate of almost 18%, moving in the right direction.

Benefits of Transitioning to Bioplastics

The benefits of transitioning to bioplastics in Africa are multifaceted. Choosing biodegradable plastics means that, should waste management systems fail to collect these materials, the products will degrade over time rather than continue to pollute the earth. This can positively impact Africa’s natural scenery, reducing plastic litter on beaches and in cities. Additionally, the global demand for bioplastic is growing rapidly, creating manufacturing opportunities that Africa could fill. This could create jobs, improve the socioeconomic landscape, and position Africa on the cusp of sustainable development manufacturing.

Challenges Facing Bioplastics

However, the downsides of bioplastics highlight some challenges. Bioplastic is significantly more expensive than fossil-based plastic, costing between 3-5 times more. This makes implementing bioplastics difficult due to Africa’s price sensitivity, meaning only niche applications or high-end products can use bioplastic successfully. Additionally, the technical knowledge and equipment needed for bioplastic manufacturing are both hard to come by and expensive, complicating the initiation of production processes in Africa.

Africa’s Advantages and Opportunities

Despite these challenges, Africa is well-placed regarding feedstock availability and proximity to major European demand markets. Establishing new industries in Africa could transform livelihoods and play a crucial role in the global push towards sustainable development.


Wankai New Material Co., Ltd.'s investment in Nigeria fully utilizes the potential of the African region, leveraging research and development (R&D) to drive green production, with the expectation of contributing to the continent's fragile yet beautiful environment and promoting sustainable development across Africa.

Source from The Zimbabwe Independent

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