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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Columnist: Nana Adjei

Has plastic become Ghana’s biggest enemy?

Ghana is still struggling with indiscriminate handling of waste, infrastructure and plastic products Ghana is still struggling with indiscriminate handling of waste, infrastructure and plastic products

Waste management is now a mainstream topic as it is the biggest environmental threat the world is currently facing. We’re also dealing with the challenges of sending too much waste to landfills, addressing climate change and the fight against single-use plastic.

Waste management issues differ greatly by continent. In Canada, specifically the province of Ontario, individual municipalities are faced with dealing with new/additional divertible materials, staggering recycling rates, banning single-use plastics and switching the responsibility to physically and financially manage end of life waste from consumers to the individual producers. In comparison, Ghana is still struggling with indiscriminate handling of waste, infrastructure, plastic, used tires and innovation.

As a passionate Environmentalist, I have been wondering where Ghana’s future waste management strategy is heading. Will it go nowhere? Will we introduce blue box or recycling bins? Will we ban single-use plastics? Will we provide more bins in public spaces to reduce littering? Will we focus on composting? These are just some of the many questions that I have!

If we look at the 2019 Budget Statement & Economic Policy (page 190) it indicates Ghana plans on “finalizing a new National Plastic Waste Policy, which will focus on strategies to promote reduction, reuse and recycling”. Although I applaud our fuglemen for following the order of the waste management hierarchy - reduce, reuse, and recycle – I am unsure whether the policy is achievable or aspirational as important information is missing. For example, will there be a proposed time frame, which single-use plastics will be banned and will there be opportunities for public consultation?

To me, this seemingly simple plan is surprisingly difficult to execute but it depends on who you consult and how they choose to prioritize. Looking through an environmental lens, single-use plastic is bad and needs to be banned. At the very least, it is integrating into our production and food chains and overwhelming our bodies of water and the aquatic inhabitants. From an economic point of view, it’s easy to understand why manufacturers choose single-use plastic for their packaging. Some of the advantages: simplification of logistics and transportation, lengthening shelf life, maximizing products on display, eliminating contamination and more.

Although plastic has become a huge problem, there is still “good” plastic out there! Not all plastic is created the same which means some of it does have value and importance. As an example, COVID-19 has made us re-define our view of single-use plastics and their importance in preventing the spread of the virus.

Despite all the brouhaha made by the media about plastic being evil, our leaders must be practical and pragmatic to ensure that we do not proceed with a ban on all plastic. Calvin Lakhan Ph. D Co-investigator of Waste Wiki, York University, stated that “plastic is not our enemy. We need smart policies and not blanket ban”.

As stated in my previous article, “What is the Goal of Waste Management Systems in Ghana”, goals will lead to data which will bring insight and transformation.