If current trends continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. This alarming finding was reported in The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics, published in 2016 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. A study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia the year before predicted that 99% of the world's seabird species will have "accidentally" ingested plastic by then.
It’s estimated that 90% of the plastic that flows into the oceans does so through 11 rivers and their tributaries in Asia, Africa, and South America. This is because household, municipal, agricultural, and industrial wastes are not disposed of properly. As they are not treated, buried, burned, or recycled, they transform waterways and oceans into open-air dumps.
This is the foremost challenge that Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and KfW decided to tackle when they launched the Clean Oceans initiative exactly one year ago.
The three development banks have set themselves an investment target of €2 billion. And they have given themselves five years to rally states, cities, and businesses, giving them the means to manage waste systematically and efficiently.
One year on, they have reached a third of their target: €700 million has been invested in projects with the “Clean Oceans” label. Special attention is being paid to initiatives that encourage the collection and treatment of plastic wastes and improved management of wastewater.
There has been a proliferation of initiatives, from the improvement of wastewater drainage systems in Ratmalana and Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, to the management of rainwater runoff in Cotonou, Benin and the expansion of sewage treatment plants in Cape Town, South Africa.
• Cape Town: expansion and renovation of sewage treatment plants
The population of Cape Town, South Africa is now 4 million. Faced with constant population growth, the city’s existing wastewater treatment infrastructure is inadequate and under pressure: there are only 26 sewage treatment plants, some of which date back to the 1950s.
Because wastewater—along with plastic waste—often goes without treatment in this coastal city, it reaches the shoreline and pollutes the coast. This runoff is also a real health risk for the population.
That’s why KfW has granted the city a loan of €80 million to expand and renovate its sewage treatment plants. The grant will also enable the city to set up a wastewater recycling system.
• Sri Lanka: 45,000 people connected to a sanitation system
In Sri Lanka, only a tiny proportion of the population (2.5%), most of whom live in Colombo, is connected to a sanitation system. AFD is helping to improve sanitation services in Ratmalana and Moratuwa.
The two rapidly expanding coastal cities have received two loans of €76 million and €75 million respectively to expand their water treatment systems. These two projects should connect 44,500 people to the sanitation network, expand the capacity of the wastewater treatment plants, and enable the two cities to better treat and filter wastewater containing plastic and microplastic particles. The various measures should significantly reduce the quantity of plastic currently discharged into the Indian Ocean.
• Lomé: a new landfill created
Lomé, the capital of Togo, is a coastal city with a population of 1.4 million. For several years, AFD has been helping it modernize its system for solid waste management. A new landfill has been built, as well as a system to help identify recyclable materials.
AFD is also providing support for the renovation of the existing landfill, in order to reduce its environmental impact. The project has already helped reduce the quantity of plastic waste thrown directly onto the streets or discharged via wastewater drainage channels, thereby decreasing the amount of waste reaching the Atlantic Ocean.