Pushing Africa’s plastic revolution

Denis Aheto on stage in front of
Denis Aheto on stage in front of

TD Walter Bean Lectuerer, Dr. Denis Aheto, shares five ways to advance global solutions for healthy oceans

Plastics make up more than half of marine litter and, i n 2020, over 700 million pounds were dumped worldwide with much of the debris washing up on the shores of Africa. 

Ironically, the biggest polluters are not African nations. It is the largest developed and rapidly developing countries that are propelling th issue , and it will continue to worse if action is not taken. So how do we safeguard our oceans for future generations and realize a sustainable future?

Thanks to the generous support of TD, Dr. Denis Aheto was able to share his vision with Waterloo as he was this year’s TD Walter Bean Professor in Environment.

"Plastics is a transboundary issue; one where we don’t currently have a coordinated effort to address the root causes and deal with the levels of trash," Dr. Aheto. "We must look at a multistakeholder approach incorporating community, policy,

Aheto advocated for five interrelated methods the global community should pursue tackle plastic pollution: investing in training knowledgeable professionals and transferring knowledge between developed and developing nations , implement ing policy at national and international levels , increasing issue awareness through advocacy, building partnerships across sectors to co-design, creat e and implement activities, prioritizing intergenerational equity to ensure future generations inherit the same resources that the previous generation had. 

Using examples from African countries like Côte d’Ivoire , he detailed we can transform challenges into opportunities for growth simultaneously bolster sustainable development and stimulate socioeconomic transformation. 

Dr. Aheto shared this vision at his March 5 public lecture on Africa’s Plastic Revolution with more than 300 participants. It was followed by a discussion with Dr. Bessma Momani, a ssociate ice- p resident, I nternational , and professor in Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. They spoke on a wide range of topics like the role of technology in his vision.

" Technology would be essential for minimizing the toxic effects of plastics," Aheto said. " It can also repurpose plastic waste , such as making building materials."

Aheto was also asked about gaining attention policymakers, the importance of Indigenous knowledge and cultures in advancing this work , example s’of research impact from The Africa Centre of Excellence in Coastal Resilience (ACECoR) where he is the director. 

" We have established vibrant community projects in Gambia and Ghana where we work with the local coastal communities , sharing knowledge to enhance the ability of women shell fishers which goes a long way to building the local economy and empowering well-being and gender equality." 

It is stories like these that demo nstrate the power of harnessing science and collective action. Beyond this one example, ACECoR has further been involved in interdisciplinary research focusing on microplastics, heavy metals, and nutrient impacts on aquatic systems, biodiversity and livelihoods.

The significance of healthy oceans cannot be overstated. With Dr. Aheto’s visit to the Faculty of Environment, we are able to share knowledge and advance collaboration to realize our common commitment to a sustainable future. It’s a commitment that is pivotal to the Faculty of Environment and resonate s the University’s strategic direction outlined in Waterloo at 100 .

Building the knowledge and skills necessary for society to address complex environmental issues, the TD Walter Bean Professorship aims to attract top international research professors on the environment to campus to give public lectures, teach classes, and meet with professors and students. Described as a fitting testament to the late Walter Bean’s legacy of community involvement and commitment to youth, education and community, the professorship is made possible thanks to the generosity of TD Canada Trust and their commitment to building a sustainable future together with their partners.