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01.05.2005 General News

Plastic war reaches a pinnacle

By Mawusi Afele

A war raging between the authorities of the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) and producers of water in plastic sachets is reaching an critical pitch meaning it may soon be settled by the courts and public opinion. With the city choked by a pile of plastic waste and the authorities helpless to clear the mess, they have announced a ban on the production and sale of water in plastic sachets and plastic carrier bags with affect from June 1.

Plastic carrier bags have been used to carry or store virtually everything - notably beverages, oil and porridge - and their indiscriminate disposal has been a major problem.

The Accra Metropolitan Assembly has passed a resolution stating that from June 1, it will become an offence to produce, store, sell or possess plastic carrier bags and water in sachet bags. The Association of Sachet Water Producers has called for dialogue on the impasse of how to clear the mess, and has threatened court action if the AMA sticks to its ban. It stresses that its members are in lawful business and the city authorities have no right to ban their business. At the heart of the impasse is whose responsibility it is to clear the mess. Mayor of Accra Stanley Nii Adjiri-Blankson is putting the responsibility on the doorsteps of the producers of plastic bags, and, especially, companies that produce water in sachets.

"It is their responsibility and they have to help the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to clean the mess," he said. "You appreciate the fact that we are being suffocated by a mountain of waste which we have very limited resources to deal with," Agyiri-Blankson said.

"I regret to state that after a prolonged battle for sanity to prevail in the city, the AMA has now lost all patience." But the producers say they do not have the numbers, let alone the financial might to carry it out.

The AMA says the Association of Sachet Water Producers should contribute some 400 million cedis a month - about $45,000 - to help the Assembly clean plastic waste. But the Association says this would be too much of a burden, as out of the 1,500 companies approved by the Food and Drugs Board, only some 70 are active, and they alone cannot bear the cost.

Some members of the public have criticised the city authorities saying they have for years failed miserably to clear the garbage and the ban is only a face-saving measure. "It is a knee-jerk reaction," said Kwame Danso, a public servant.

"The solution is in the education of the people to abandon their attitude of indiscriminate waste disposal." Kwamena Ahwoi, a former minister of local government and rural development in the former administration cautions that the action of the city authorities would create more problems. He said Accra had a population of some three million and there were some 500,000 people who visit the city everyday.

"How do you quench the thirst of these people and hundreds of thousands who need to drink water during the day outside their homes and offices?" he asked. The irony is the same Assembly of Accra banned the sale of water in bottles and cups a few years ago because of it was not hygienic, paving way for the introduction of water in plastic sachets. An effort to solve the problem by getting people to collect and sell plastic waste to a company that would recycle it is moving very slowly.

Dubbed "Accra Free of Plastic Waste" it has a twin objective of ridding the city of plastic waste and recycling plastic waste of all kinds. This urged school children to pick as many plastic wastes as possible and present them to the plastic waste collection point at James Town for a fee. Adombire Gheysika Agambilla, Deputy Minister of Environment and Science, said plastic waste had become a prime menace to the environment, hence there was the urgent need to deal with it.

"Until every Ghanaian's heart beats with a will to be clean, the plastic waste menace will grow and choke us," he said. The ban in the production and sale of plastic bags and water in plastic sachet may be drastic and time will tell whether it will work. - dpa

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