‘Young people have an incredibly important role [when it comes to plastic pollution], but you must get on top of it!’ This good-natured order came from Derek Hanekom, Acting Minister of Environmental Affairs, at the launch of the African Youth Waste Network in Port Elizabeth on October 29. ‘You must be researchers and scientists and understand the problem,’ he said, ‘and then share the knowledge with your fellow pupils.’
Hanekom’s speech was followed by Norway’s Minister of Research and Higher Education Iselin Nybø. ‘If we want to reduce plastic waste,’ she said, ‘we have to change behaviour. The voice of the youth can be a powerful agent for that change. It’s heard by decision-makers in governments, businesses, schools and communities. And it can change the future – given the chance.’
This might seem a heavy burden for youth to bear. After all, adults don’t seem have the matter in hand, do they? This is why the launch of the African Youth Waste Network is an exciting prospect: through youth initiatives and social networks, awareness about plastic pollution and its negative effects on the environment can be grown, and who knows what solutions might come from their mass education, and from young minds applying their minds collectively.
The Youth Network is part of the African Marine Waste Network, and is funded by Norway. Heading it up is SST’s Alexie Kalenga.
‘As my generation says: we have a situation!’ she said in her speech. As of 2015, 226 million youth aged 15 to 24 lived in Africa, according to UN population estimates, she explained. By 2055, that figure’s expected to double. ‘Is Africa ready to meet the social, economic, political and educational challenges that will arise with the youth population increase?’ she asked. And with increased numbers, comes increased waste – and plastic pollution.
The Youth Network is an active platform for collaboration, resource and knowledge sharing both within countries, and across Africa’s borders, and the aim is to find relevant solutions to the continent’s plastic pollution problems, she said. The network will create ‘green schools’, starting in Nelson Mandela Bay, and linking schools across the country and continent.
The launch, held on the Nelson Mandela University campus, was attended by a host of dignitaries and stakeholders. Speakers included Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Mongameli Bobani; Prof Dag Rune Olsen, Rector of the University of Bergen; Prof Olav Bollan, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology; Dr Bernadette Snow for NMU and, of course, our own CEO Dr Tony Ribbink. Dr Karl Klingsheim, Science and Technology Counsellor from the Norwegian Embassy in Pretoria officiated.
More on the African Youth Waste Network will soon be available on our website.