Opinion – Celebrate Earth Day by reducing plastic use

Joachim Komeheke

Namibia has one of the most pristine environments protected by its laws. The country’s commitment to ecological conservation has made it a tourist destination and an economic sector that employs many Namibians. This further encourages local people to maintain the integrity of the land and nature, especially those in the protected natural areas. The 54th anniversary of World Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, encourages environmental management to protect the environment from pollution, habitat destruction and deforestation. This year’s commemoration has the theme ‘Earth vs Plastics’.

Reducing pollution

Waste is a primary environmental problem worldwide, especially non-degradable products such as plastics, an important innovation that makes life easy in the areas of packaging, insulation, medical applications and prosthetics.

The various products have ensured that many have access to affordable necessities.

While plastic has many valuable uses, the problem lies with single-use plastic items such as plastic bags, disposable cutlery and fast food containers.

These objects are becoming a major problem on Earth, where more than seven billion people live.

Apart from the solid waste problem, microplastics are now becoming a major problem, which are all plastic particles smaller than five millimeters.

The full extent of microplastics has yet to be understood.

However, the accumulation of waste of this magnitude in the environment is likely to have a negative impact, especially if it enters the food chain. Numerous scientific studies are already detecting microplastics in water bodies and drinking water around the world.

There is an interconnectedness and balance between the environment, society and the economy.

Ensuring that all these areas are in a continuously optimal state is crucial for us now and for future generations.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6, 12, 13 and 14 all refer to reducing pollution in various forms, with plastic being one of the pollutants of great concern.

The core principle underlying these goals when it comes to plastic is to reduce its use, based on promoting recycling and circular economies, ultimately leading to its reduced use.

Achieving these goals and other SDG-related goals as members of the international community will require concerted efforts to focus financing on efforts aimed at creating impact within these areas, and thus cultivating green, sustainable economies.

Financing projects

As a Namibian bank, Bank Windhoek’s mandate is linked to ensuring that financing is focused on projects and initiatives that incorporate environmental and social considerations.

An example of the implementation of this mandate is through the Bank’s Sustainability Lending product, which is explicitly intended to finance projects or initiatives with environmental or social benefits.

As an active participant within the sustainability niche, we can highlight a number of projects and initiatives that have been identified as doing an excellent job in reducing waste, explicitly linking them to the issue of plastic:

Rent-A-Drum: This company within the Namibian recycling sector has excellent growth potential.

Wapa Nawa Recycling Center
is a promising project that converts waste plastic into building material while creating income streams for many women within their communities.

The Namibian government’s environmental levy on carrier bags has dramatically changed the way Namibians shop and is moving towards more sustainable carrier bags for the long term.

These are some of the many examples that address the problems of plastic waste in the environment. Through these joint efforts, we can preserve the pristine environment we have today.

How can we expand what is being done?

This could be done by creating opportunities for more innovation, or by scaling up the initiatives that already exist on the ground and thus making a difference.

Blended finance is one of the solutions that can be deployed to mobilize private and public sector resources to address the key risk elements typically associated with projects or initiatives that focus on creating environmental and social impact.

The transition to alternative materials with the same versatility as single-use plastics will require innovation and investment that the private sector may not be able to support until scalability is achieved.

This is where public sector financing will be critical in creating an enabling environment to attract private sector financing to scale up these projects or initiatives.

To achieve the true sustainability of these projects or initiatives, an economic element that responds to the conditions on the ground is crucial, as this will stimulate the private sector because there will be returns, and society will be provided with affordable essential services .

As a bank focused on creating sustainable value in its communities, Bank Windhoek will continue to advocate for the collective action of everyone to ensure that environmental, social and economic considerations are prioritized.

Recognizing this is key to creating a sustainable economy that meets our current and future needs.

Through awareness we can start conversations that will hopefully generate great ideas and connections for collaborations that will solve the problems we face as a developing country.

Happy World Earth Day.

*Joachim Komeheke is Bank Windhoek’s Sustainable Finance and Environmental, Social and Governance analyst.