Accra, July 16, GNA - Vice President Aliu Mahama, on Friday, launched a National Plastic Waste Management Programme and called for a collective societal effort to stem the increasing environmental, aesthetic and health hazards posed by plastic waste.
He, however, warned that drastic measures would be applied against polluters who would fail to cooperate and tasked agencies responsible for the enforcement of regulations and bye-laws to rise up to their responsibilities.
"The public health of society is being threatened seriously and it can not be compromised any longer to hold this nation back," he stressed and urged the media, educational institutions and stakeholders in the plastic industry to assist in the campaign.
Vice President Mahama cautioned: "The alternative, I am afraid, is to completely ban the production and importation of plastics, which will be a very painful action, considering the plight of industry and employment. This is avoidable, only if we collectively pledge to tackle the menace head on."
He advised district assemblies, religious groups and educational institutions to set aside at least one day in a month to clear their habitat of waste in line with the Campaign for Greater Discipline. Over the past years, plastics have replaced leaves, glass, metal and other materials as a cheaper and more effective means of carrying, storing and preserving water, food and other products.
However, the poor management and disposal of plastic products that are non bio-degradable have brought difficult challenges as plastic waste have littered all corners of the country, heaped at refuse dumps, choked drains, polluted the beaches and the deep sea and reduced soil fertility.
At present, only two per cent of the 270 tonnes of plastic waste generated daily in Accra is recycled, while it cost the Accra Metropolitan Assembly 2.2 billion a month to clean the city of Accra. The 13.5 billion cedi-programme, therefore, aims at transforming the difficulties into opportunities for recycling with its associated benefits of a healthy and sound environment for both locals and tourists, job creation and the saving of foreign exchange.
The National Plastic Waste Task Force, which comprise representatives of plastic waste importers, producers, users and supported by the Ministries of Local Government and Rural Development, Environment and Science and Trade, Industry and President's Special Initiatives, would prosecute the programme.
Scheduled to begin this month, the first phase of the three-year programme involves the collection and recycling of plastic waste in the various cities of the country; and the mounting of educational activities, particularly targeted at children to change their attitude to littering the environment.
A special pilot phase, which would be tested in the Ashiedu Keteke and Osu Klottey Sub-Metros in Accra, would use 20 paid refuse collectors in each of the areas to mobilise waste from house to house. Additionally, commercial drivers and their mates would be paid to collect plastic waste from their passengers.
The programme would be extended nationwide at the beginning of next year for the second phase.
Mr Kwadwo Adjei-Darko, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, announced that 150 tractors and 1,000 communal refuse containers had been procured to be distributed to its agencies to assist in waste management.
He described the sanitation situation as unacceptable, disclosing that annual solid waste production exceeded one million tonnes. Only a third of the quantity, he said, was collected with the remaining two thirds left to impact negatively on the environment and public health.
"The situation is even more alarming with only about 40 per cent of urban and 15 per cent of rural dwellers having acceptable domestic toilets. Some 15 per cent of urban dwellers still use pan latrines and majority of people depend on unsanitary public toilets," he stated. As part of efforts to solve the sanitation problem, Mr Adjei-Darko said the Ministry would revive and expand the membership of the National Environmental Sanitation Policy Coordinating Council to help to deal with issue on a multi-sectoral basis.
Five engineered landfills and waste stabilisation ponds are under construction in Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi-Takoradi, Tamale and Tema under the Urban Environmental Sanitation Project, he added.
He disclosed that a community house-to-house waste collection programme would soon begin on a pilot basis in Accra using young people with specially designed pushcarts.
The Minister of Tourism and Modernization of the Capital City, Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, complained that the plastic waste menace would deter tourists who would consider Ghana as a filthy nation.
He said: "plastic waste has a terrible impact on tourism, particularly on the beaches along the eastern-part of Accra, which are at the receiving point of waste that are carried by rain waters from especially the Korle Lagoon."
He said the fishes in the sea were also affected as they swallow the plastic waste carried into the deep sea, thus killing many of them. Mr Alan Kyeremanten, Minister of Trade, Industry and President's Special Initiative (PSI), who chaired the function, urged all to help wage war against plastic waste, which he described as "Ghana's number one public enemy."
Over 400 million cedis was raised as start-up capital for the Campaign with Vice President Mahama pledging 50 million cedis. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development with its agencies pledged 200 million cedis, while the Poly group of Companies presented a cheque for 50 million cedis and promised 50 dustbins to support the collection exercise.
Representatives of Regional Coordinating Councils, metropolitan and district assemblies, importers, manufacturers, users of plastic waste and the Association of Sachet Water Producers took turns to pledge their support for the programme.
Other persons, who had produced innovative products such as roofing sheets from private waste, also exhibited their products.