Managing plastic waste everybody’s business
The commemoration of World Environment Day this year focused on plastic pollution and it is apt because the world has largely failed to effectively manage waste from plastics.
Plastics have become a ready and very convenient packaging material, but just a cursory look around shows that we have not properly managed the waste that its usage generates.
They are found in open spaces, gutters, water bodies and even the sea and experts have warned that if care is not taken, in the very near future fishers will catch more plastics than they do fishes.
Globally, eight million tonnes of plastic waste leak into the ocean each year.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute across the world.
The danger of our indiscriminate disposal of plastics lies in the fact that fish and other sea creatures as well as ruminants are now ingesting plastics and we humans in turn consume the fish and the meat of the ruminants to satisfy our protein needs.
From equipment to food items and even water, drinks and all sorts of fluids, plastics have been found to be appropriate for wrapping, holding and packaging, but it has been a tall order disposing of the plastic containers and wrappers properly.
Organisers of World Environment Day, the biggest international day for the environment, led by the UNEP, which is held annually every June 5 since 1973, therefore, chose this year’s theme, “Solutions to plastic pollution”, to focus on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution.
The government has tried several ways to deal with plastic waste which has become an albatross around our neck but it has failed, hence the tonnes of plastic waste that we find on our streets, most of which end up in drains and are the major cause of floods.
The fact that about 840,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated annually in the country, while just 9.5 per cent of that is collected for recycling is quite scary.
An attempt to ban plastics provoked an uproar, especially from producers of sachet water and others who depend on the plastic industry to make ends meet.
While the Daily Graphic agrees that there is the need for a joint effort between the government and the private sector to effectively and efficiently deal with plastic waste, we would only be going round in circles if we do not walk the talk.
Plastics are not biodegradable, hence the need to properly dispose of them. Some countries have found the banning of single-use plastics as the solution to managing plastic waste.
As declared by the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Dr Kwaku Afriyie, in his statement to mark the day (Page 43), "The major problem confronting Ghana is the collection of single-use plastics or the under 20 microns’ plastics termed as the orphan plastics, and the improper disposal of such plastics.”
What is the government doing about this identified challenge? We clearly need effective policies and a law to bar people from producing 20 microns’ plastics.
While countries such as Rwanda do not entertain plastic wrappers, carrier bags in other jurisdictions are bought at the supermarket, which is an effective way of preventing people from discarding what we refer to here as polythene bags, after single use. Can we adopt that here?
Proper disposal of plastic waste for which we have numerous uses such as bags and pavement blocks after recycling has been shot in the foot because we do not separate waste in our homes and offices.
Try to do that and the waste trucks will put everything together before getting to the final disposal site because we do not have proper structures in place.
We do not take lightly Dr Afriyie’s assurance that “the government would ramp up policies and interventions that would help to reduce the plastic menace in the country,” and that Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MESTI) would work with other stakeholders, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency, to undertake projects that would promote sustainable management of plastics.
We intend to hold him to those words. We must all be deliberate in disposing of plastic waste properly to protect ourselves and future generations.