The World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF2022), which closed in Kigali, Rwanda, on 8 December 2022, allowed Africa to rethink its strategies for transitioning to a circular economy, particularly in Central Africa, where one of the five studios organised to reinforce the main forum in Kigali was held. And from Yaoundé in Cameroon, the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) was questioned and economic actors were challenged with a view to reducing emissions linked to waste, energy, transport and construction. The strengthening of environmental policies was also proposed, along with a range of solutions for a successful transition to the circular economy.
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“While the producers, the main polluters, are destroying the environment, the collectors and recyclers who strive to remove this waste cannot make a decent living from their activities. This was the observation made by Jocelyne Landry Tsonang, the representative of the African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) in Cameroon, at the Yaoundé studio, coordinated by the network as part of the World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF2022). The role of the producer in the adoption of the circular economy approach was thus questioned by actors from the private, public and civil society sectors.
The principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) holds the producer responsible not only for its products but, beyond the point of sale, also for the waste that these products generate after their use by the consumer. Specifically, this principle requires a domestic producer to ensure that the waste from its product is returned to it or to another recycling channel. The commitment of some Central African producers has been praised for their sustainable development strategies. This is the case of the Société anonyme des brasseries du Cameroun (SABC), which has collected and recycled 100 million plastic bottles in the country and which plans to recycle 80% of its waste by 2025 in collaboration with Namé Recycling, a Belgian-Cameroonian company operating in the cities of Douala, Yaoundé and Limbe.
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For its part, the Société des brasseries du Gabon (SOBRAGA) says it will have recycled 20 million plastic bottles by 2020 into “sheets to secure bundles of clothing or semi-processed wood, flakes that are semi-finished products for export and pallets for construction,” explained Marc Monkam, Namé Recycling’s site manager at the conference. It was also noted that EPR legislation is not yet clear in the countries of the sub-region. Hence the need to strengthen environmental policies by drawing inspiration from good examples, notably South Africa and France, cited by Acen. As for the concept of EPR, a study conducted by scientists from the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) and the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) has demonstrated the inadequacy of the EPR principle as it limits responsibility to the borders of the country of production and sale; they have developed the ‘Ultimate Producer Responsibility’ (UPR) which proposes solutions to ensure their responsibility worldwide; thus the UPR will also apply to the trade of waste between Europe and Africa, holding responsible foreign producers who export their waste to third countries.
Strengthening environmental policies
In the energy sector, for example, South Africa, the biggest polluter on the African continent, is betting on renewable energy for its energy transition and the decarbonisation of its economy. The rainbow nation, which is 80% dependent on coal for its electricity production, is expected to close several of its power plants over the next few years and build new clean energy facilities.
In line with this, Cameroon, which hosted the WCEF studio for Central Africa, wants to set up a circular economy standard, notably through the Agency for Standards and Quality (ANOR) following its membership of Acen.
The creation of a national waste exchange in Cameroon
In the country, a national waste exchange will also be set up to strengthen partnerships between actors in the waste sector (household, electronic, organic, plastic, industrial, medical, textile, etc.). In this way, the different actors will be able to benefit from the ‘waste hierarchy’ where waste from one industry becomes a resource for another.
This initiative will support the environmental permit granted by the Cameroonian Ministry of the Environment to actors in the waste sector. “Anyone seeking this permit must have a waste management plan and a recycling partner. In the country, nearly 500 permits have already been granted, creating jobs and boosting the economy through the payment of taxes,” said Paul Tchawa, Secretary General of the Cameroonian Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development.
And on this point, the private sector came back to the charge on the final destination of these taxes that could be used to facilitate the transition to a circular economy, especially in the agricultural sector through the transformation of organic waste into ecological fertilizer in order to reduce the import of chemical fertilizers that are both harmful to the environment and the health of the population, said Loïc Kamwa, promoter of agribusiness and specializing in the cultivation of corn. The Cameroonian government explained that it was working with the Directorate General of Taxes to set up a fiscal dimension of the circular economy. “Those who are really active in waste collection and transformation initiatives will see their tax burden reduced. Those who, on the contrary, will remain in the production of waste without caring about its life cycle will unfortunately be punished,” said Paul Tchawa.
Chad to join ACEN
Gabon and Chad also took the opportunity of the Yaoundé studio to unveil their roadmap for the promotion of the circular economy. “It is a notion that is still rather timid in the minds of industrialists in Gabon, but we are already talking about it. We already have an environmental code that requires each company to define an environmental plan and prepare a waste management plan. Now we aim to accompany these companies towards this transition, given that not all of them are wealthy and therefore unable to sign partnerships with recycling industries,” said Jean Félicien Liwouwou, the deputy director general in charge of aquatic ecosystems at the Gabonese Ministry of Water, Forests and the Environment.
Chad too has a panoply of environmental laws that are unenforced, but immediately, “the country plans to join ACEN to build a national restorative economy and contribute to the construction of an African circular economy that generates well-being and prosperity for all its people,” said Djerang Saglar, the Director General of Development at the Chadian Ministry of Environment, Fisheries and Sustainable Development.
ACEN is also banking on the creation of a circular eco-organisation of producers to combat pollution and reduce pressure on resources. This approach also aims to recycle wastewater for the irrigation of agricultural land. Furthermore, the circular economy implies the need, and the opportunity, to switch to renewable energies, electric mobility, and green building methods to reduce pressure on the environment. Another approach to the circular economy, the deposit system, often proposed by Acen, was not discussed in Yaoundé; this system tackles the source of the problem, such as the growing production of plastic packaging, by ensuring the circulation of plastic bottles between consumers and producers. In this way, the production of plastic bottles can be reduced and their use optimised.
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The preservation of the environment was underlined as “paramount” and for the public and private actors present at the Yaoundé studio, this will also involve the consumer. Just as farmers are called upon to minimise their water consumption, households were also called upon to adopt eco-actions. And to encourage people in Cameroon, recycling companies are setting up buy-back centres, for the moment mainly dedicated to plastic bottles. “We already have two buy-back centres in Douala, still called Namé Boxes. We are working, in collaboration with the Société immobilière du Cameroun (SIC), on the installation of a third centre at the Mendong camp in Yaoundé. We have received an order for 11,000 plastic pallets from the SABC and the collection of bottles from these centres should help us achieve this goal and we can do more with more funding,” said Marc Monkam, the site manager of Namé Recycling in Yaoundé.