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Involving children in managing plastic pollution pertinent: UNICEF

UNICEF Country Representative to Zimbabwe, Dr Tajudeen Oyewale

Writes Elvis Dumba

Harare – The participation of children in waste management strategies, including strategies meant to address plastic pollution, is of paramount importance as they are not spared from the menace.

The remarks were made by UNICEF Country Representative to Zimbabwe, Dr Tajudeen Oyewale during the World Environment Day Commemoration held in Harare.

The UNICEF boss said children cannot be left out in the fight against pollution as they also face the brunt of plastic pollution.

“Children and young people must and are playing a pivotal role in adapting the world we live in to be fit for today and tomorrow’s children and families. UNICEF calls for all to create space, support, and encourage children and young people to actively participate and stand amongst us as leaders in the global fight against plastic pollution and climate change.

“Recent research published by the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe highlights that every child in Zimbabwe, 43% of the population or 6.6 million under 18 – is exposed to at least one climate or environmental hazard and is at risk of climate change impacts such as flooding, drought, heatwaves, cyclones, and air, land, and water pollution. Children are the most vulnerable to plastic pollution, climate change, and environmental degradation, and yet they are the least responsible.

“Children are physiologically more vulnerable. Toxic substances, such as microplastics, lead, and other forms of pollution, affect children more than adults, even at lower doses of exposure. In this regard, we need to put children at the center of the climate and environmental pollution agenda, as well as recognize them as agents of change to the pollution crisis,” he said.

To that end, UNICEF is calling for a safe and clean environment for children and young people to survive and thrive. The UN agency is currently partnering with various government ministries and agencies to harmonize environmental pollution, climate change, green growth, and child rights agenda.

The Government of Zimbabwe – through the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry, and UNICEF recently launched Clean Green Zimbabwe, an initiative to strengthen climate resilience and environmental management by cultivating children and young people to be environmental stewards and mobilizing collective actions in schools and communities.

It aims to establish clean green schools, communities, and urban spaces with climate-resilient WASH, health and education services, practical learning spaces, clean energy, and integrated waste management.

Recently UNICEF participated in developing the National Determined Contribution (NDC) Implementation Plan, the National Adaptation Plan, and the ongoing development of the National Environment Action Plan, intending to ensure that young people are not left behind.

During the commemorations, stakeholders across the board were urged to protect the environment through waste recycling programs amidst increased plastic pollution.

In his keynote address, Permanent Secretary for Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry, Ambassador Raphael Tayerera Faranisi urged Zimbabweans to invest in waste management systems and encourage recycling and reuse in an attempt to reduce waste.

The World Environment Day is commemorated on 5 June of every year.

“There is an urgent need globally and locally to address the threat of plastic pollution, and the only way we can do so is through collaboration and engagement to fund innovative ways to stop plastic pollution as I have just mentioned above.
I am happy to say the government is stepping up efforts to push Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and create a circular economy that reduces, reuses, and recycles plastic more sustainably.”

“Let me repeat the clarion call by our political leadership to local authorities to expedite investments and improve waste management systems. We urgently need appropriate infrastructure that receives and processes plastic waste and ensures its reuse. There is also a need for local authorities to engage consumers and other key stakeholders in addressing plastic pollution to influence the market and inspire behavioral change,” Ambassador Faranisi said.

About 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans; equating to one lorry load every minute. More than 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year worldwide, half of which is designed to be used only once. Of that, less than 10 percent is recycled. An estimated 19 to 23 million tonnes end up on land, in lakes, rivers, and seas annually.

Around the world, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, while up to five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes, meaning it is used just once and then thrown away.

The commemorations ran under the theme “Solutions to Plastic Pollution”.

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Byron Adonis Mutingwende