The common party habit destroying the environment and communities.

Cocaine is experiencing a revival with recreational use becoming commonplace. Its primary consumers being majority white, middle to upper class people, the use of this drug expresses the different levels of inequality within Cape Town. I’m sure you’re likely aware of this, but past that did you know that the casual use of cocaine has a negative impact on communities and the environment? 

‘That one gram of cocaine on a Friday night basically cancels out all of your good intentions’

One trip into the CBD and it’s rather obvious that Cape Town is the eco-friendly, green-living hub of South Africa. Cyclists crowd the sidewalks, vegan restaurants and markets are popping up everywhere, straws are basically non-existent at bars these days. Yet, Cape Town’s cocaine use seems to be the highest it’s been in this decade. But did you know, that that one gram of cocaine on a Friday night basically cancels out all of the good intention-ed choices you made for the entire week. Not only because it’s harmful to you, but because it’s harmful to the environment and, says Tony Saggers, Head of Drugs Threat at the NCA, by doing so you are directly “feeding an industry which routinely uses death, violence and destruction in its production process”. Contradiction, right? 

Here are the main ways cocaine demand and production is impacting our Earth and communities involved:

35% of Columbia, the cocaine capital of the world, is covered by the Amazon rainforest- the largest single-producer of oxygen. In the past 20 years, 2.2 million hectares of the Columbian rain forest has been cleared for the growth of the coca plant – the plant needed to produce cocaine. 

In 2006, the Colombian and British governments teamed up to create the ‘Shared Responsibility’ campaign in an attempt to create awareness around the harmful effects of cocaine, both on the environment and the people involved in producing it, as well as to guilt-trip people out of buying the illicit drug. 

The ‘Shared Responsibility’ campaign included many shocking facts such as:

  • 300 000 hectares of the Columbian rainforest are destroyed each year for the world’s demand of Cocaine, that’s four times the size of New York.
  • One kilogram of coca base produces 600 kilograms of toxic waste and 200 litres of contaminated water – water that is often dumped in the same river that 17 million people depend upon.
  • Indigenous people are often forced off their land to make way for the growth of coca plants.
  • An estimated 164 000 people were murdered by cartels between 2007 and 2014 and more are killed in the crossfire of the drug war. When you buy, you contribute to these numbers.  
  • It is estimated that it will take anywhere between 100 and 600 years for one hectare of rainforest to recover from the production of Cocaine.
  • More than 6000 plant species and 13% of the world’s amphibians, as well as other fauna, reside in the Amazon and they are threatened by its deforestation.

Despite all of the above statistics the UK and Colombian governments noted that there was no change in demand, and therefore production levels.

In 2015, they teamed up again, and launched #EveryLineCounts. The campaign targets cocaine users that are environmentally conscious and believe in social justice- but who may not be fully aware of the impact that their recreational drug choices are having. The campaign focused on the same points as its predecessor, just with a more refined target group.

‘Much like deciding to ride a bicycle or to do meatless Mondays, every choice we make has an impact’

The reality says Saggers is that “buying cocaine funds the exploitation of impoverished people, destroys and pollutes large areas of rainforest, forces people from their homes so coca can be grown on their land, and results in the murder of police officers and others who stand in the way of powerful crime groups”.

In Cape Town, I believe that there are many who fall into this group, and the point is not to reproach, but to enlighten. A basic law of economics is less demand equals less supply. Much like deciding to ride a bicycle or to do meatless Mondays, every choice we make has an impact. Maybe keep this in mind the next time someone asks you to go in on a gram.

Words: Rebecca Cheeseman

Feature image: By Zoya Pon [background via, illustration via]