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Livingstone, Zambia
Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport
Impact: Environmental Sustainability
This environmental conservation volunteer program is a world-first and has won awards for innovation and excellence. Volunteers contribute to the envi ...

Home to a number of the poorest countries in the world, Africa is the second most polluted continent on the planet. African Impact has been working here for the past 15 years and has seen the devastating impact that plastic, litter, and other waste has on the communities and wildlife initiatives we support.

Facts about plastic pollution and waste in Africa:
  • Just 10 rivers across Africa and Asia carry 90% of the plastic that ends up in our oceans
  • Along the South African coast, there are over 3,000 plastic particles every square kilometer
  • Over 1 million tons of plastic is thrown away in South Africa every year
  • Approximately 500 shipping containers of waste is dumped in Africa every month
  • In the last study, only 10% of all trash produced in Africa was recycled
  • An immeasurable number of towns across the continent have no official waste collection service, meaning there is nowhere for litter to go


How long it takes for plastics and other litter to decompose?

Debris TypeTime taken to decompose
Plastic bottle450 years
Fishing line600 years
Glass bottle1 million years
Aluminum can80 – 200 years
Foam plastic cup50 years

Source: Coastal Care

Why plastic and litter is such a problem in Africa:

In East and Southern Africa, high population growth rates and increased access to fast-moving-consumer-goods means more and more people are using single-use plastic products. Unfortunately, many destinations, including Zambia, suffer from ineffective (or practically non-existent) waste management or recycling systems. This means litter and waste have to be burned, buried, or in most cases, simply dumped on the side of the road. This, coupled with poor standards of education and the ever-growing trade-off between environmental consciousness and rising costs of living, is having a catastrophic effect on the health of the locals and Africa’s fragile wildlife.

What is being done to reduce plastic pollution in Africa?

Despite the shocking statistics, many African nations are actually at the forefront of the fight against plastic. Countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Morocco have now banned plastic bags entirely, while South Africa enforces high fees for the purchase of a plastic bag in supermarkets. Africa has the potential to leapfrog the traditional cycle of waste-collect-dispose and create a circular economy with creative solutions to reuse, repurpose, and recycle.

We’re excited to be here on the frontline.

How you can get involved in reducing plastic pollution and help clean up the environment in Africa?

In line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 13, 14, and 15 (Climate Change, Life on Land and Life below Water), African Impact has launched a number of pioneering initiatives that help to reduce the impact of plastic and waste on the people, environment, and wildlife of Africa. Through a holistic approach that includes local communities every step of the way, volunteers and interns are making a real, tangible contribution to the problem of plastic pollution on the African continent.

How African Impact’s plastic and environmental sustainability programs work?

African Impact’s Plastic Pollution and Environmental Sustainability volunteering and internship initiatives focus on three key areas; prevention of waste, direct clean-up action, and exploring creative opportunities for reusing, repurposing, and recycling plastics.

  • Prevention of waste

Building awareness around why waste is an issue in Africa is a delicate process, given that many communities live in remote, poverty-stricken areas and are unable to access waste collection services, or even afford refuse bags. However, education on possible alternatives is much-needed and necessary. It is also enthusiastically welcomed by the communities, as proven by the incredible response we’ve had to our plastic and waste initiative so far. As a volunteer or intern in Africa, you’ll help prevent plastic and waste from reaching our oceans by holding educational workshops with local communities, as well as facilitating discussion groups to look at the issues and the possible solutions.

  • Taking practical action

While education is important to halt the rapidly increasing flow of plastic into our environment, it is also important to practically reduce the amount of waste reaching our natural areas. To achieve this, we facilitate mass volunteer clean-ups on both the land and water, involving local people and community groups. We also research and action reducing, reusing, and recycling opportunities for waste that minimizes people’s need for single-use items.

  • Finding opportunities for income-generation

For a sustainable change in behavior around litter within areas of extreme poverty, it is important that alternative waste management schemes benefit the local people. Alongside our team, volunteers and interns get involved in income-generating schemes that help turn plastic and waste into profitable and innovative products. Things like creating eco-bricks for buildings and infrastructure; providing composting areas for schools and clinics that enhance their community gardens (zero waste living!); and teaching local artisans how to make crafts and jewellery to sell to tourists. This is a real opportunity for volunteers to release their inner creative personality and ideas, providing a source of support that will empower new nations of environmental business owners.

Your choice of plastic and environmental sustainability initiatives in Africa include:

If you are passionate about plastic pollution and the environment and want to volunteer in Africa, check out our project: