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Opinions of Friday, 16 October 2020

Columnist: Richard K. Asare

Transforming Ghana's plastic waste for economic gains

In many African countries including Ghana and around the globe, plastics play a very important role in the economic lives of people due to its durability, portability and affordability.

Plastics play a significant role in transporting Ghana’s indigenous goods. Indigenous food products like ‘‘waakye’’ and ‘‘kenkey’’ are no exceptions. However, these poly bags are single-used, on average these plastics can only be used for a maximum of an hour, but live with us in the environment (land-fills) for decades.

The sad reality in Ghana is that most plastics we use are non-biodegradable which end up either on land-fills (which is not effectively regulated), gutters or in water bodies. Reports from the World Bank have it that Africa produces almost 70 million tonnes of waste each year. It is believed that as poorer people move to middle-class status there will be pressure on the consumption of plastics and the resulting effect leading to more waste generation.

The quantum of waste generated is expected to increase exponentially as more urban centres spring up.

Most businesses in Ghana are more focused on their profit margins without considering the environment which their businesses are operating. Giving equal attention and prominence to the environment will lead to a green economy.

The green economy will also ensure sustainability. A classic example of adopting a circular economy is where the Philippines give their enormous plastic waste a second life by using recycled plastics to manufacture cement and build roads. This drastically minimises the plastic garbage found on land-fill sites and drains. Embracing this approach of circular economy in Ghana would save the nation the accompanying problems like perennial flooding after a heavy downpour as plastic waste choke gutters and other drainage systems.

Governments generating revenues from plastic waste through environmental policies

Governments elsewhere in the world generate revenue from poly bags as a way of controlling plastic waste. UK countries including Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland introduced the ‘‘carrier bag levy.’’

This compels consumers to send their own poly bags from homes to shops or use bags that have longer shelf-lives in order not to pay a fee for a bag. Wales began charging 5 pence for plastic bags in 2011which resulted in a 71% reduction of plastic waste generated.

Around 80% of the revenue generated from the levy goes to charity while 20% is channelled into government treasury (ec.europa.eu).

Italy enacted and implemented a law that poly bags produced for commercial uses must indicate what they are made of and how they can be re-used and or/recycled (reusebags.gov.uk/carrier-bags). These initiatives in the respective countries have greatly contributed to controlling plastic waste in the environment.

In Ghana, black poly bags are normally given out for free in most shops after the purchase of items which is definitely not the case elsewhere. Can Ghana government adopt and implement the ‘‘carrier-bag charge’’ as a way of generating revenue and minimising plastic waste? Assuming 10 pesewas is placed on each carrier bag/polybag and 30 million Ghanaians use it a day will accrue to about GH¢3 million revenue generated into government coffers.

This cumulative revenue (generated yearly/quarterly) will help meet the numerous government projects such as the construction of roads, provision of potable water amongst others.

South Africa adopts the use of a mobile van called ‘‘Packa- Ching.’’ This van travels across low-income countries to buy plastic waste, metal cans and paper. The van pays for these wastes where the money is sent into an e-wallet payment system called eVoucher.Mobi. Research shows that countries which have adopted a circular economy saw an improvement in the economic lives of indigenes coupled with the environmental benefits of recycling.

Efficiency analysis was rather seen in the improvement of economic fortunes (Robaina, 2020).


Adopting environmental policy instruments in Ghana

Environmental Policy Instruments help to mitigate the impacts businesses have on the environment by collaborating with government actions. Few of these environmental policy instruments include;

Polluter-Pays Principle: this is a widely accepted practice in most European countries which works by making the polluters pay for the cost of managing the harm they cause in order to save the environment and human health. But my question is how effectively can this principle be applied here in Ghana? Taking the sachet water producing companies as an example would imply that they should be charged per the quantum of waste they generate annually (through information from waste companies).

Producer responsibility: due to the ever-increasing wastes generated, governments all over the world have resorted to making producers of goods face the responsibility for their products from inception to end-of-life (post-consumer stage). It then provides incentives to the producer in a bid to minimise wastes and rather encourage producers to practise a circular economy approach through product design/recycling. This approach minimises the impacts businesses have on the environment since products can be repaired, recycled and reused over and over again. In this way, the ‘‘cradle-to-grave’’ approach is stopped in favour of the "cradle-to-cradle" approach.

The Role of the Ghanaian Media in Educating the Masses: the media has a significant role to play in influencing positively the large majority of Ghanaians to become environmentally responsible. There could be flagship programmes by media houses on the environment which will be purposely dedicated towards discussing sanitation issues and our roles as citizens. Programmes in reference to the Environment, for instance ‘‘Time with our Environment", "Going/Living Green," "Eco-Education" where environmental experts would be engaged to discuss alternatives to making our beloved country cleaner and healthier. I personally refer to the individual responsibilities of citizens towards the environment as "Consumer Responsibilities" where fly-tipping would be discouraged.

In conclusion, adopting and implementing these environmental policy instruments suggested above will not only be a means of raising revenue but also significantly contribute to achieving our environmental and sanitation objectives as a country.

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