You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2019 09 15Article 781209

Opinions of Sunday, 15 September 2019

Columnist: Vicky Wireko

Endless debate, no answers yet: The menace of plastic waste

File Photo File Photo

It has been an ongoing debate for some time now. It has taken so much shine from our cities and towns and killing humans, animals and of course, our environment. That menace is plastic waste and the debate is whether to ban it or not.

There is no denial that our failure to manage plastic waste is a huge problem. We seem to turn a blind eye to it, even though it stares widely at us on our streets and in our communities.

Yet others have boldly taken lasting steps to wean their environment off unsightly piles of plastic waste, why can’t we?

Failed attempts by governments over the years to control plastic waste means that we need to empty the basket and just go out there to borrow ideas from far and near. During the last rainy season, when we got reminded again by floods, the displacement of families and the unfortunate loss of lives, that we need to do away with the indiscriminate dumping of waste into our drains, we heard another solution proffered by none other than our Minister of Science and Environment. And his workable way forward?

No plastic ban

The Minister of Science and Environment told us a couple of months ago that banning plastic usage is not the answer to our plastic waste menace and he would not so recommend. He explained why the ban was not the answer, saying there could be other ways of using waste plastics and that included cement block manufacturers, who, for example, had found use for some types of plastic waste as hardening agents for their products.

But seriously, the tons of plastic waste one sees around would mean mighty and quicker steps that could overturn the existing mountains of waste materials. The moves needed, if banning plastics is not the way to go, may be two-fold. We need critical and constant education, as well as basic and practical ways to collect the waste for recycle.

Worldwide innovations/practices

Ghanaians may not need to crack their brains to search for clues in dealing with the canker. It is a worldwide problem that some countries have successfully dealt with. All we need to do is to copy the best practices that are out there. And thank God these days, many Ghanaians are exposed to best practices as they travel the world.

In our continent Africa, the best example on the lips of most people, when they talk about best practices in plastic waste management, is once war-torn Rwanda. As a friend who visited that country last month sent me pictures of streets in Kigali, I gathered plastic waste littering is a thing of the past. The country has banned the use of plastics and managing the aftermath.

Looking further afield, plastic waste management is a priority in many advanced countries. Education and conscious efforts are being applied by manufacturers, shops and supermarkets, individuals, local authorities and central governments. It is indeed a collective effort and there is no reason why we cannot do same in our country.

Separating household garbage should be a step forward for us. We are not doing it because local assemblies have reneged their duty to educate households. We pay property rates but we hardly see our rates working for us.

Elsewhere, I am informed that the local government collects the recyclable waste with no charges to households and sell them to raise income to further develop the communities. This is a laudable idea for our assemblies to copy.

The other practice gaining ground elsewhere and far easy to replicate is the encouragement by some water producers to consumers to return pet bottles for cash payouts.

They give bold reminders on their labels instructing consumers to return bottles to be recycled. Those who return their empty pet water bottles are paid cash for doing so. This is something Ghanaians could easily do. It is not too far from what one has been used to doing as far as purchasing bottled soft drinks or beer is concerned. One has to return empty bottles to be able to buy new ones.

So, between plastic manufacturers, water producing companies and distribution outlets, we have some answers to managing our plastic waste. It is time for consumers to be encouraged to return their empty water sachets and plastic bottles to designated shops for money back.

It does not matter how small the amount, the fact that people can enjoy freebies simply by returning empty plastics is good motivation to stop indiscriminate littering of plastics.

That way the few recycled plants we have, the manufacturing concerns that use recycled plastics and those yet to be discovered, would have a central place to purchase their raw materials. If banning plastics is not the answer, then pragmatic management of plastic waste should end the debate.