A strategic communications project from the Action Lab for Human and Planetary HeAlth (ALPHA).

Photo by Avinash Kumar on Unsplash.com.

Researchers have shown that in coastal Kenya the mosquito species Aedes aegypti — the primary carrier of viruses like dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya and Zika — breeds in plastic litter. By creating systems to remove this plastic pollution, policymakers can significantly reduce deadly mosquito-borne diseases, improving public health, the economy, and the environment. 

Stanford’s Dr. Desiree LaBeaud and the Technical University of Mombasa’s Dr. Francis Mutuku have partnered with ALPHA to share findings on linkages between plastic trash and arbovirus transmission with policy makers in coastal Kenya. Their argument is that improving local waste management and recycling processes can not only serve as a public health intervention, but can also mitigate environmental damage and strengthen the local economy. 

Policymakers play a huge role in resolving this challenge. Local recycling is currently hamstrung by various levies, taxes, permitting requirements, limited access to loans, and inequities in pay. Improving waste collection infrastructure and constructing new recycling plants could also potentially contribute to positive change in this space – yet these require investments and political prioritization. 

Increasing awareness of the plastic-disease connection might also help resolve another key issue. Trash collectors are a critical part of recycling operations – gathering plastic waste from the streets and bringing it to yard shops that can then turn it over to recycling plants. Yet, in addition to the health and safety obstacles they face, they also contend with harassment and stigmatization from their local communities. Making the various environmental and health risks of plastic waste known might lay the foundation for improved community perceptions of trash collectors, improved recycling behavior, and advocacy for improved recycling operations at county and national levels.

ALPHA is currently working on disseminating research to policymakers, supporting policy workshops, and developing communications materials to improve community awareness of the plastic challenge and opportunities for solutions.

You can download the brief pdf file here.