''If we say no to plastic bags, it will save millions of people down the line.'' - Amit Ray, Peace Bliss Beauty and Truth: Living with positivity.
Plastic pollution has quickly become one of the world's most serious environmental problems. This problem is especially evident in developing countries where the production rate of plastic has outpaced their ability to recycle or how to efficiently dispose them off. Widespread littering and indiscriminate dumping of plastics waste is increasingly becoming a threat to our very existence as plastics pollutes the land, water and air.
Despite the fact that plastics do provide benefits to health, hygiene and quality of life, increased access and affordability to clean water, improved hygiene of agricultural products among others, the hazardous impacts that mismanaged plastics pose to the environment, human health, marine life and sustainable development cannot be overlooked.
Plastics have been embraced by manufacturers for packaging almost everything. A greater proportion of our foods, water, and everyday products are packaged in single-use plastics. Plastic bags are relatively cheap and readily available for such uses. For example a GHS 10 meal of ‘Kenkey’ uses on average 5-7 single-use plastics: 3 plastics to individually wrap 2 balls of ‘kenkey’ and fried fish; 1 plastic for the pepper sauce; one small black plastic to wrap everything; and a bigger nicely coloured carrier plastic bag to help carry the food home. Do the math for other foods for breakfast, lunch and supper.
In our market places, vendors gladly wrap items bought by their customers in plastic bags. One person could take about 20 different single-use plastic bags home after a day’s shopping. No wonder all types of plastics including shopping bags, pure water plastic bags, plastic takeaway food packs, and water bottles are disposed off indiscriminately everywhere around us.
The dysfunctional municipal or district waste management services encourage residents, especially those in big cities to openly burn their refuse, usually with high proportion of plastics. This releases toxic substances into the atmosphere, polluting the air. Nobody really cares.
Plastic waste statistics
Global plastics production grew from 1.5 million metric tons (Mt) per annum in 1950 to 400 million Mt in 2017. Production during the last 10 years equalled production during the whole of the 20th century combined. It is estimated that global plastics production could triple by 2050. Only 9% of the 9 billion tonnes of plastics ever produced have been recycled, with 8 to 12 million tonnes entering the ocean as litter every year (MESTI, 2020).
In Africa less than 20 percent of plastics are recycled currently, far below European Union targets of 50 percent by 2025. In lieu of formal recycling operations, waste pickers collect litter and sell it to middlemen, who aggregate plastic waste and sell it to recyclers abroad (Forbes, 2020)
Ghana generates 1 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. Out of this, only 2-5% (22,000-55,000) is recycled. The rest end on landfill (38%), land (28%), sea (23%), or burned (11%) (UNDP, 2019).
Over 2.58 million metric tonnes of raw plastic is imported into Ghana each year and 73% of this ends up as waste. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that plastic bottles that end up in the ocean can take up to 450 years to biodegrade.
The plastic waste that ends up in landfills contributes to the contamination of groundwater, land and air pollution. In addition, undisposed plastics can amass in drains and lead to flooding. The stagnant water from pollution-induced flooding facilitates the outbreak of waterborne diseases like malaria and cholera among vulnerable people living in highly polluted areas. Ghanaians also resort to burning their undisposed plastic waste, which releases airborne toxins (BORGEN Magazine, 2020).
More than 28,000 premature deaths in Ghana every year are linked to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018) of which the burning of plastic waste contributed a good part.
In July 2019, the minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, stressed government’s intention of not introducing a plastic ban due to its wide usage and contribution to the economy. Instead of banning plastics, he said, “Government is relentlessly working on managing them.” (Ghanaweb, 2019)
In October 2019, Ghana was the first African nation to joined the Global Plastics Action Partnership, a public private platform dedicated to fostering action to combat the plastic pollution crises.
The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation published the revised National Plastics Management Policy in March 2020, The purpose of the National Plastics Management Policy is to bring renewed focus and cohesion to the many existing policies and programs within the public and private sectors to address the rapidly growing plastics pollution crisis in Ghana. The government has also partnered with the private sector to curb the plastic waste crises.
Behavioral change – A change in attitude of the citizenry could make a big difference. As noted by panelists at a Plastic Dialogue organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “We call for concerted behavioural change from the public to deal with plastic because the issue is not plastics per se, but littering, and our attitude towards waste management must change.”
Use of paper bags or cloth bags - Paper bags are 100% biodegradable, reusable, and recyclable. Many paper bags can withstand more pressure or weight than plastic bags. Paper bags present less of a suffocation risk to young children or animals. Cloth bags can also be used in place of plastic bags. They last longer and will only require wasging when dirty.
Recycling – Through a number of processes plastic waste is collected and converted back into useful products, instead of being simply disposed of. When performed correctly, plastic recycling can reduce dependence on landfill, conserve resources and protect the environment. This will mean establishment of more recycling plants in the country. Recycling more plastics can help local businesses and expand jobs while supporting the goals of sustainability
Legislation – laws could be enacted to completely ban or re-use single use plastics, like sachet water plastic bags, shopping bags and single-use water bottles.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) - This includes regulations to make producers responsible for the impacts of plastics on the environment - such as the growing cost of addressing plastic litter (collection, disposal, street sweeping, waterway cleanups, etc.). This extends the producer’s responsibility for a product to the post-usage stage. This could also include mandatory take-back programs (ATCMASK, 2019).
“Though we cannot permanently remove the past plastic wastes, we can stop using them in the present and in the future”. - Sir P.S. Jagadeesh Kumar
Remember the plastic bottle or sachet water plastic we throw away every day still stays there. Let us come together to make the world a better place. It is our collective responsibility.
https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved August, 2021)
https://www.atcmask.com/blogs/blog/plastic-pollution-in-ghana (Retrieved August,2021)
https://www.borgenmagazine.com/plastic-pollution-in-ghana/ (Retrieved August, 2021)
https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2020/10/22/ghanas-ambitious-plan-to-minimize-plastic-waste/ (Retrieved August,2021)
https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/We-ll-not-ban-plastics-Government-760047 (Retrieved, August, 2021)
https://mesti.gov.gh/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Revised-National-Plastics-Management-Policy_-FINAL.pdf (Retrieved August, 2021)
https://www.weforum.org/our-impact/waste-to-wages-technology-is-a-game-changer-in-ghana-s-fight-against-plastic-pollution/ (Retrieved August, 2021)