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Oil and chemical industry lobbies Trump Administration to expand plastics across Africa

August 30, 2020

Unearthed investigation reveals plastic industry lobbying

Washington, DC – The American Chemistry Council has lobbied the Trump Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic to use a US-Kenya trade deal to expand the plastics industry’s footprint across Africa. Documents obtained by Unearthed — Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism platform — through the Freedom of Information Act separately show that the same lobby group, which counts Shell, Exxon, and Total among its members, also lobbied against changes to the international Basel Convention, which puts new limits on plastic waste entering low and middle income countries. The story broke in The New York Times today.

“It is shameful but not surprising that struggling fossil fuel giants are lobbying for an expansion of their polluting plastic footprint into the African continent to keep their profits flowing,” said Greenpeace USA Senior Plastics Campaigner Kate Melges. “These companies hope to continue dumping single-use plastics on communities around the globe, despite their known impacts to the environment and public health. Making public statements about ending plastic pollution while quietly lobbying to allow Africa to be used as a plastic dumping ground is next level hypocrisy and greenwashing.”

The ACC wrote to US Trade Representative officials, stating, “Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying U.S.-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement.” The ACC also calls for the lifting of limits placed on the plastics waste trade, which experts believe would circumvent the new Basel Convention rules.

In a separate letter to the Chairman of the US International Trade Commission, the ACC states that the trade agreement will be an “important model” for other African states. The letter reads, “With this foothold, the United States can play an influential role in shaping trade policy across Africa,” and that it will enable the US to “build a platform for U.S. chemical manufacturers to expand exports to enter new growth markets throughout sub-Saharan Africa.”

The efforts by the ACC could undo progress that Kenya and other African states have made to address plastic pollution. Kenya passed one of the toughest laws on the production, sale, and use of plastic bags in 2017, and recently expanded on it to outlaw plastics in protected areas. Recently, Mozambique announced its plan to eliminate plastic bags as well.

“Africa is at the forefront of the war on plastics, with 34 out of 54 countries having adopted some regulation to phase out single-use plastic,” said Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor Fredrick Njehu. “The Kenyan government should not backslide on the progress made in its plastic-free ambitions by folding to pressure from fossil fuel giants, because it stands to derail the progress made across the entire continent.”

Oil companies, including Shell, Exxon, and Total — alongside consumer goods companies like PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, are members of the industry’s Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which has committed to spend $1 billion toward waste management efforts to prevent plastic pollution in places like Africa and Asia. Despite these public commitments, the ACC, which represents some of these companies, argued in the documents that such infrastructure will require continued plastic waste exports because a circular economy requires ample feedstock. The ACC told Unearthed that they were concerned about how the restrictions could impede exports from low and middle income countries to those with more infrastructure capacity.

Unearthed’s full story can be found here: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/08/30/plastic-waste-africa-oil-kenya-us-trade-deal-trump/

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Contact: Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 301-675-8766

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