US pressures Kenya on plastics

Piles plastic waste at a recycling facility (KEYSTONE/Alexandra Wey)

A lobby group representing oil and chemical companies, including Shell, Exxon, Total, DuPont, and Dow, has allegedly been pushing the Trump administration to use a US-Kenya trade deal to expand the plastic and chemical industry across Africa. That’s according to Unearthed, an independent journalistic project focusing on environmental issues.

What happened? In a letter dated April 28th, seen by the Associated Press, the American Chemistry Council urges the US and Kenya to prohibit the imposition of domestic limits on “production or consumption of chemicals and plastic” and on their cross-border trade. Plastic is already the US’ biggest export to Kenya, with sales totalling $58m in 2019, and the move seeks to undermine Kenya’s world-leading stance against plastic waste and turn it into a key transit point to other African countries.

Why this is important. Bans on single-use plastics are growing worldwide, with Sub-Saharan Africa and notably Kenya taking the lead on plastic bag laws. In January enters into force the Basel Convention, signed by 190 countries - but not the US - which will make it more difficult to export plastic waste to poorer countries.

This follows China’s decision to halt imports of most plastic waste in 2018, setting a trend across East Asia and forcing companies to seek new places where to send it. Under pressure on fossil fuels, oil companies consider plastics as a market to develop to sustain their petrochemical branches. The African continent is a clear target and its recent pro-environmental policies could be at risk in trade talks with the US.