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05.10.2019 Feature Article

The Plastic Menace

The Plastic Menace

All of us know about it, we complain about its negative effects on us all, we talk about it in our homes, in the trotros, in the offices, in the churches and everywhere. Politicians are worried about the dangers that unbridled use of plastics pose to our environments both on land and worse, in the sea, but we lack the 'testicular fortitude to breast the tape' to say no to plastic use. Perhaps if we had accepted the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to take place, we would have had the testicular fortitude to breast the tape and say a BIG NO TO PLASTIC USE in Ghana, no matter the sizes of the testicles or the breasts. The males of this country fear that any attempt at rotating the testicles would create testicular torsion, while the females are worried about breast cancer.

Please don't ask me where from these. My initial lessons from Comprehensive Sexuality Education classes. The lectures sweet ooo, you people don't know what you have missed. If you convert it to Common Sexual Education, what the above means is that, we should be bold to do what is right to preserve the body, that's alllll….

For the first time since President Donald Trump ascended the Presidency of the United States of America (USA), he was very sober during his speech at the UN General Assembly. A phrase that struck me very hard was his admonishing that we should be patriots and not globalized in our perspectives. It looks as if nations are giving up their identities for a globalized world where decisions on global values and principles which are not collectively taken but are consumed or supposed to be consumed across board. If a nation decides not to tow the line and abide by so- called globalized philosophies, that nation stands the risk of being financially 'ostracized' from the comity of nations.

Sadly, those of us from the underdeveloped nations simply swallow anything imposed on us as long as it is coming from a developed nation with all its dangers. While the proponents of some of the things we consume here in Ghana have quickly developed strategies and means to deal with the problems associated with the new ways of doing things, we hardly think about negative effects of the things we are copying let alone find the appropriate remedies to them.

When I was growing up, women went to the markets carrying baskets with folded napkins in them. They bought their food items and other such needs and covered them neatly and brought them home. They did not need to litter the environment with any waste. Some of the items which required that they were wrapped before putting into the baskets, clean cement papers or back issues of the Graphic newspaper or its counterpart, the Ghanaian Times were at hand to do that. Even if these papers were recklessly abandoned in the open, they easily degraded with the soil once water touches them.

We gradually moved to the use of paper bags as shopping containers with time, being papers, they did not harm the environment. Meanwhile, cooked rice, waakye, fried plantain and beans and such allied local dishes were served in leaves. Again if our recklessness demanded that we dropped them in the open, the goats and the sheep were on hand to clean them up without being paid. Our refuse sites were full of bio-degradable materials which rot away and create the black soil which as school children, we dug and used for planting various items in schools.

Today, globalization has dragged us into a global plastic usage when we do not have the capacity to manage the plastic wastes in such a manner that they do not become harmful to our collective survival. We are told that this country produces 1.7 million tonnes of plastic wastes each year. For one to appreciate the quantum of the waste, consider the fact that this nation exports about 800,000 tonnes of cocoa a year. Cocoa is a major source of income for this nation. We also know the weight of a bag of cocoa. What the figures indicate is that we produce plastic wastes twice the weight of cocoa which we export each year in this country.

Out of these volumes, we are told that just 2% of it is recycled. Where then does the remaining 98% of the 1.7 million tonnes go? Some of them choke our drainage systems and halt the flow of waste water, rainwater and block the sewage systems. So each time it rains, our roads and homes are flooded. Lives are lost and hard earned properties are destroyed. Our soils have been filled with plastic wastes thus making backyard gardens difficult to embark upon as we use to do when I was growing up. Road construction has become more expensive because natural gravels for road works are all filled with plastic wastes. The contractors will have to be meticulous in picking these wastes one by one or leave them for portions of the roads to cave in after construction.

Our streams and river bodies are full of plastic wastes. Aquatic life in our communities are dead, fishes no longer survive in flowing rivers or in lagoons and lakes. We are told also that plastic wastes take 500 years to decompose. We are not just waiting for those wastes we have already implanted in the belly of the earth or in the water bodies to decompose, we are still adding to them on a daily basis. The oceans all over the world have had their share of this plastic waste menace which is killing bigger fishes in our seas.

It is this threat to aquatic life that has generated the global outcry about the plastic waste menace. Strangely enough, each time this issue comes unto the table for discussion, the business operators in this industry are quick to raise the issue of the jobs that this sector creates in the economy. I just heard from a representative of plastic producers and importers, making an argument that they create 350,000 jobs in this sector. A justification for their continuous operation, even if our lands, river bodies and the seas are destroyed.

Are we counting and adding monetary values to the loss of lives, destruction of property each time it rains and the drains get choked because of the improper disposal of plastic wastes? I believe that every activity of mankind creates a kind of job for those engaged in them or the recipients of those activities. I heard our deferential president, Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo appealing to us all for a behavioural change in the way we manage plastic wastes.

That is what any president of a country would do when confronted with the choice of taking serious measures which would lead to loss of jobs and protecting our environments. He surely would be in a dilemma. But my dear president, it is an open knowledge that the Ghanaian will never change his behaviour in as long as that behaviour is convenient to him or her no matter how it affects the society generally. A change of behaviour comes about through an incentive or a disincentive.

Faced with the type of insanitary conditions that confronts us, the destruction of our water bodies and agricultural lands and the attitudes of the Ghanaian, I am of the view that we need to ban plastic use in its entirety or the single use of it. We can give the operators time to retool to produce paper bags. We need healthy environment for the next generation.

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By Kwesi Biney

Kwesi Biney
Kwesi Biney, © 2019

The author has 100 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwesiBiney

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