Yarakh Beach in the Senegalese capital Dakar is littered with trash and plastics, as government efforts seem to have fallen short in addressing the issue.
Environmental activist Modou Fall has stepped in with a unique method to raise awareness about the dangers of plastics – by wearing many of the bags, cups and other junk that might just as soon be part of the trash piles.
“It’s a poison for health, for the ocean, for the population,” says Fall, who is popularly known as “Plastic Man”. He wears his uniform – “it’s not a costume”, he emphasises – while telling anybody who will listen about the problems of plastics.
He founded an environmental association, called Clean Senegal, that raises awareness via education campaigns and encourages reuse and recycling.
In 2020, Senegal passed a law that banned some plastic products. But if the mountains of plastic garbage on this beach are any indication, the country is struggling with enforcement.
As Fall walks, kids on the beach shout: “Kankurang! Kankurang is coming!”
Part of the cultural heritage of Senegal and the Gambia, the Kankurang symbolises the spirit that provides order and justice, and is considered a protector against evil. On this day, this Kankurang is telling the kids about plastic pollution and urging them to respect the environment.
“Climate change is real, so we have to try to change our way of life, to change our behaviour to better adapt to it,” he tells them.
Senegal is far from alone. Each year, the world produces a staggering amount of plastics, which – in addition to creating myriad eyesores – often end up clogging waterways, hurting land and sea animals that might ingest the materials.
That pollution is in addition to all the greenhouse-gas emissions, the primary cause of global warming, that are the result of producing plastics. And things don’t appear to be moving in the right direction: Global plastic production is expected to more than quadruple by 2050, according to the United Nations Environment Programme and GRID-Arendal in Norway.
As world leaders gather this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the UN climate summit known as COP27, Fall hopes his message about plastics will resonate.