The American Chemistry Council has lobbied the US government 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’s investigative journalism platform – through the Freedom of Information Act 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 put new limits on plastic waste entering low and middle income countries.
“Africa is the new battleground on the future of plastics, with 34 out of 54 countries having adopted some regulation to phase out single-use plastic,” said Fredrick Njehu, Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor. “The Kenyan government must adhere to its plastic-free commitments and resist pressures from fossil fuel giants. If plastic waste gets imported to Kenya in the framework of a trade agreement with the US, it stands to derail the progress it has made and turn the entire continent into America’s waste bin.”
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.”
“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 efforts by the ACC would undo progress that Kenya and other African states have made to address plastic pollution, turning the entire continent into a depository for plastic waste after Asian countries refused that role. 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.
“Kenya has made great strides to reduce plastic pollution – there is a ban on the use and manufacture of single-use plastic carrier bags and recently a ban on plastic in protected areas. This trade deal could turn Kenya into a dumpsite and diminish what the country has achieved. We are petitioning the Ministry of Trade to say no to this deal,” continued Njehu.
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 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.
International Communications Coordinator, Greenpeace Africa