(CNN)For more than five years, Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, a 30-year-old Malawian environmental activist, has waged a David v Goliath battle against some of the country's largest plastic manufacturers to bring an end to single-use plastics.
Malawi's landscape is clogged with plastic waste that could linger for 100 years. One woman has taken on plastic companies and won
Together with other activists and civil society groups, Majiga-Kamoto spearheaded a grassroots campaign that fought to pressure authorities into instituting a plastic ban in Malawi.
"We organized several marches — marched to the court and in communities to document their experiences and the challenges they encountered because of the plastic problem we have in the country," Majiga-Kamoto told CNN.
After a protracted legal battle with plastic manufacturers, the Malawi Supreme Court upheld a national ban on the production, importation, distribution, and use of thin plastics in July 2019.
Majiga-Kamoto's fierce advocacy led to the shutting down of three plastic firms in 2020 by the Malawian government and as a result of her grassroots campaign, she has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa.
She is one of six global winners of the prestigious award, announced Tuesday morning, which honors grassroots environmental activists.
But the mother-of-one says her advocacy journey has sometimes taken a toll.
"You sometimes put your family at risk coming up against huge companies and people that are well connected politically. You always find there's a conflict of interest and you're stuck in the middle. It does feel a bit threatening and can also feel a bit scary," she told CNN.
An estimated 75,000 tons of plastic are produced in Malawi each year, a recent study commissioned by the government found, and at least 80% of those plastics are discarded after use, according to the study.
Malawi's plastic waste will require more than 100 years to decompose, but sustained manufacturing of throwaway plastics may lengthen this projection.
"Should production and distribution continue, chances are high that we will reach a crisis level," Yanira Ntupanyama, the principal secretary at Malawi's Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources told CNN.
The findings of the government study also found that the East African nation produces more plastic waste per capita than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa — and this has greatly overwhelmed its waste disposal systems.
Majiga-Kamoto says she was spurred on to go against the plastic manufacturers after seeing how farmers and livestock were struggling with plastic pollution.
"It became very personal for me after interacting with farmers," she says. "Some of them are losing their livestock because once the animals get into the field, which is so heavily polluted with single-use plastic, they consume these plastics, which kill them, thereby affecting the livelihood of their owners," she said.
In Mponela town, in Malawi's Central region, Majiga-Kamoto says around 40% of slaughtered livestock in the area were found to have ingested plastic fragments.
Nearly 80% of Malawi's plastic waste ends up in garbage dumps and natural surroundings, as the government study shows it may take more than 400 years for some plastics to decay.
Malawi's environment has also been adversely affected by plastic litter. Sanitation experts have blamed the "poor handling" of plastic waste in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, for dangerous flooding, which has displaced thousands of people in the city."
"It is a problem. Plastics don't decay in the environment and may stay over 100 years... It's a nuisance to the environment; blocks drainage system[s], offers habitat for multiplication of disease-causing organisms and kills livestock when ingested," Ntupanyama told CNN.