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Opinions of Thursday, 1 October 2009

Columnist: Isang, Sylvester

We need Polluter Pays Principle in Ghana

Getting solid waste especially waste plastic bags cleared off our cities and towns is a big problem confronting not only Ghana but almost all developing countries. The problem is equally of worrying concern in the cities and towns of the developed world. But the difference lies in the ability to take decisive measures to deal with this urban waste problem.

In this article I am focusing my attention on household or domestic solid waste especially litter. I once heard that there is the possibility of an order or if I may use the appropriate term a bye-law from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) that will ban the production of plastic bags in the Metropolis (AMA). Recently a ban was pronounced on the sale of ‘pure water’ in our Football Stadia. This is due to the fact that not only do irate fans throw the sachet water on referees and sometimes players for maybe poor officiating or other reasons best known to such football fans who engage in this despicable act but the ban I believe is due to the fact that our stadia have always been littered with the water sachets leaving a very nasty scene behind.

Several people have also been taken to court by the AMA for disposing their solid waste at the wrong places. Some of the culprits are currently serving various jail terms for their inability to pay the fines imposed on them by the courts. What a bold step towards enforcement of law! But how sustainable would that be?

There are perhaps other measures either in existence or in the pipeline from Local Government Authorities and other State Agencies that aim to get rid of solid waste especially waste plastic bags in our cities and towns. I do not want to engage in the debate as to whether these orders or bye-laws are necessary or not. The obvious thing is that plastic bag is the commonly used bag for carrying many of the items or food that we buy in the market or shops. It is a fact that it is the cheapest ‘carrier bag’. Another reason may be that alternative ‘carrier bags’ are not available. Even if there are alternatives how common and for that matter affordable are such? What concrete decisions have various governments taken on the issue of waste plastic bags? And as responsible citizens how often have we demonstrated our responsibility to keep our environment clean as enshrined in our National Constitution which binds us all? In the UK and most developed countries that I know of they don’t produce and sell and for that matter drink ‘pure water’. They equally shop commonly with plastic bags as we do in Ghana and buy ‘fast food’ wrapped with disposable materials and so on. But the question to ask is why are their cities clean despite the fact that in fact people do litter the streets in the UK and other developed countries? Why do they litter and yet have their cities and towns kept clean. Can we do same? These are questions for all of us as concerned citizens of Ghana to reflect on. My reflection is this write-up; the issue at hand –the solid waste especially litter (waste plastic bags) on our streets.

Many central and local governments across the world have enacted various environmental legislations to deal with the alarming pollution that befalls their cities and towns. Notable among such legislation is the application of the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ (PPP). This principle can be applied in several forms but notably it occurs in the form of taxes being imposed on the ‘polluter’ or in clear terms the ‘polluter’ is charged some money for producing the waste (litter) to have the waste cleared for disposal to the landfills or recycling plants as the case may be.

In Environmental Legislation the Polluter Pays Principle makes the person or body who generates the waste pay for the damage the waste costs the environment or to life in general as well as for the disposal of the waste produced. It is sometimes called extended polluter responsibility.

The Polluter Pays Principle was first widely discussed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The principle was endorsed by all the representatives from the 154 participating countries of which Ghana was one.

Each day, individuals, households and companies produce millions of tons of waste to the extent that the carrying ability of our environment to handle this waste is becoming exceeded. Many central and local governments have therefore adopted PPP to advert the dangers associated with this menace.

Examples of PPP are:

• Seattle, USA: Bin Volume-based Scheme. Householders are asked at the beginning of the year to say which sized bin they would like to use. They pay more for a larger bin. If they create more waste than will fit in the bin they can buy special sacks to dispose of it.

• Treviso, northern Italy: Frequency-based scheme. Householders are billed according to how often their bins are emptied.

• Maastricht, Netherlands: Sack-based scheme. Householders buy special pink sacks (€1 each) from local shops for their non-recyclable waste.

• Flanders, Belgium: Weight-based scheme. Bins are weighed at each collection, and households are billed according to the total amount of non-recyclable waste they throw away.

PPP ensures responsibility in waste generation. It equally has the effect of reducing the amount of waste produced. There is also the possibility that the imposition of the principle will encourage self-recycling, composting (waste that can serve as material for compost) among others.

The obvious weakness of PPP is the fact that it will bring about extra cost the greater part of which may be pushed unto the consumer.

That notwithstanding, it is my personal view that if we are to make progress in the agenda of getting litter out of our cities and towns we must be ready to make bold decisions and be ready for the consequences of such decisions. More often in Ghana and other parts of the world for fear of loss of political capital (voter support) governments have often felt reluctant to make bold decisions. The situation is often exacerbated by the politicisation of such issues. Can one believe that management of public toilets is becoming politicised in Ghana? Such that the moment a new party comes to power its supporters immediately stage a ‘coup d’état’ and remove those who were managing the toilets with the flimsy explanation that they are supporters of the former government.

How should PPP be applied in Ghana? It should start with political commitment from government. Government must demonstrate its commitment towards waste management through the adoption of the appropriate waste management strategies or policies which should be seen as national but not partisan policies such that the moment there is a change in government such policies cease to function. This presupposes that the process in adopting such policies must be all-inclusive and be depoliticised. The lessons we have learnt so far with the decongestions of our cities should be enough to tell us that politicisation will not benefit any one. At the end of it all it will be our dear nation that will lose but if Ghana is supreme to our party interest why must we politicise every issue? There must be strict enforcement of national waste policies or legislations. We normally conclude that European and other developed regions’ cities and towns are clean. My one-year experience in Europe is that it is not that they don’t litter but the ‘laws on litter’ are enforced without fear nor favour. Can we do the same in Ghana? Can we fine people on the spot for littering? Can we immediately ‘shame’ people who litter?

A second major step to PPP is to let the citizens understand why the need for the policy through meaningful education or public sensitisation. The citizens need to be aware that it is a basic responsibility to keep the environment clean. Fortunately if majority of Ghanaians are religious (all faiths) and we all therefore accept that ‘cleaningness is next to Godliness’ then we can pass through our various religions to inject the needed sense of environmental responsibility in every Ghanaian.

When the citizens understand that keeping the cities and towns clean is a responsibility, then politicisation of such will fail and therefore that will facilitate the imposition of PPP. People will then understand why pay for waste they generate. They will be responsible in producing waste. They will even produce little waste and maybe know how to manage that little waste in order not to pay for its disposable because the policy will be ‘pay as you produce’. Government must partner private waste and sanitation companies like ‘Zoom Lion’ to get our cities and towns rid of litter. The money that people pay for polluting can be ploughed back into establishing recycling plants or employing many people as cleaners and so on so that our cities and towns will be kept clean all the times. A look at Zoom Lion will reveal that even with its presence we still have litter on our streets. This means that perhaps attitudinal change, strict legislation and enforcement among other things are still lacking. In conclusion, if we all see environmental maintenance or cleaningness as a constitutional responsibility as enshrined in our constitution and we carry out that with great sense of patriotism adopting PPP will be simple as ‘ABC’ and therefore Ghanaian cities and towns will be clean as we all will like them to be.

Author: Sylvester Isang Email: applisa2000@yahoo.co.uk