The Gambia’s efforts to beat plastic pollution

June 5, 2023

An oyster farmer paddling across the River Gambia

Photo: UNDP, 2023

The 2023 World Environment Day themed “Beat Plastic Pollution” calls for global solutions to combat plastic pollution. Globally, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications. At least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. The UNEP reports that an estimated 12 billion tons of plastic waste is expected to be in landfills and the natural environment by 2050. Plastic pollution is impacting negatively on the health of terrestrial, coastal, marine and wetland habitats in The Gambia.

The Gambia is a net importer of plastics. Estimates show that in 2019, 1.6 million kg of plastics were imported into the country. Averagely, 702,000 kg of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is produced daily in the country, of which 9% is plastics, with about 84% of this inadequately managed. Although contribution of The Gambia to global marine plastics litter is small, the impact on the ocean economy of The Gambia is significant. 

Oceans and coasts are some of the most productive ecosystems on earth, providing food and livelihood to millions of dependent local communities. In The Gambia, the fisheries sector contributes about 12% to GDP, and provides employment to more than 300,000 people. This critical sector of the economy is being impacted negatively as a result of the global plastics pollution on the oceans. Therefore, plastics waste management is a challenge that must be tackled head-on. 

The Government has taken bold initiatives to address the waste and pollution in general and the plastic menace. Through enactment of various legislation including the Waste Management Bill, 2007, the Anti-Littering Regulation, 2008 the government has shown the commitment to tackle the waste challenge. Indeed, the ban instituted by the government of The Gambia in 2015 on the sale, import and use of plastic, also imposed fines for breaches as well as mandated manufacturers to be responsible for the recovery and recycling of plastic bags. This is laudable. The Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources plans to partner with technical and security institutions including the Gambia Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to re-enforce the ban in markets and corner shops across the country. 


The Original Prusa i3 MK3S 3D printing device used in the Hackathon.

Photo: UNDP, 2023

Aside the environmental benefits of sustainable management of plastics waste, there is a business case to be made. Only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling globally. Each year, USD 80-120 billion plastic packaging material value is lost to the economy. Opportunity therefore exists to fashion a plastic’s economy that works for people and planet. In 2020, the National Environment Agency, District and Local Area councils in partnership with UNDP working through its Accelerator Lab successfully concluded a hackathon event, where Women’s Initiative Gambia was selected to receive mentorship and incubation from Make3D Gambia to explore the use of 3D printing to manage plastic waste. 

UNDP has set ambitious targets globally and is working towards pulling partnerships and resources to achieve this. In its global Strategic Plan (2022-2025), UNDP has articulated its global plastics offer which seeks to ensure 100 countries have improved plastics regulations and implementation; 100 cities and islands have effective plastic waste management plans and use reduction strategies and 100 million people are mobilized to take action on plastic pollution. 

To increase the scale of interventions and impact to beat plastic pollution the Government could: 

  • Adopt an approach to prioritize and involve all segments of the society for integrated, effective and efficient plastics and waste management by working with partners to strengthen the technical and operational capacities of regulatory agencies such as the National Environment Agency (NEA), Area and Municipal Councils and Ministry of Local Government, Lands and Religious Affairs. 
  • Work with partners including Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Faith-Based Organizations to increase efforts on raising awareness to address human behavior and people’s choices. This will impact on positive waste management practices and minimize littering and plastic use.  
  • Involve the private sector, especially Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) to innovate and scale solutions for plastic waste management, while the government provides the conducive regulatory environment and incentive for financial investment in waste management infrastructure and systems.

It’s time to act now to seize the opportunities for Government, businesses and citizens to accelerate actions and transition to a circular economy.