Naa Adoley lives in Teshie Penny, near Accra.
Every day after sending her three children to school, she sets about picking fresh plastics left in the environment.
She also visits selected homes to pick stacks of used plastics, usually from sachet water that residents keep for her for free, a convenient way of disposing off their single use plastics.
But for Naa, what they consider waste, is her daily source of income as she sells the used plastics she picks to aggregators for onward sale to recycling firms.
The plastics, normally those that have single use, when well-collected and cleaned, become raw material for numerous end-users, who convert them into other useful products.
The firms who use them, therefore, pay decent amounts of money to the pickers who risk their lives and energy to scavenge for them.
Professor Ransford Dankwah of the University of Mines and Technology, has developed a technology that converts plastics into diesel for use in automobiles.
His technology has the potential to yield other petrochemical products from plastics recycling.
Nelplast, formed and nurtured by young graduate, Mr Nelson Boateng, uses used plastics as a bonding element for concrete to mould pavement blocks.
Just recently, he added roofing sheets to the products he makes from recycled plastics.
Mr Boateng said used plastics pickers such as Naa, who dealt with his company, earn not less than GH¢50 a week.
There are also enterprises, such as Mr Ludwig Korshie Adjakloe’s Ezov Environmental Services, which work with pickers to separate and package plastics from dump sites, Voltic Ghana’s plastic collection project in partnership with Total Petroleum Ghana, as well as Ms Vivian Ahiayibor’s City Waste Recycling which runs the value chain from waste collection to plastic recycling, are all examples.
No plastic is waste
Throughout this narrative, used plastics have not been described as WASTE, because they are not. When correctly placed within a workable value chain, used plastics can be turned into value-creating ventures that can feed not only families, but generate so much for businesses, the general economy and the national purse for that matter.
Germany, which is one of the early birds in creating value from plastics by recycling, produces around 6.2 million tonnes of plastic recyclable items, the exact position in 2017, according to the environmental ministry.
A little over half of that was burned, while most of the rest is recycled; about a third of that recycling takes place outside the country; they are exported.
The plastic recycling industry in Europe is worth tens of billions of euros.
Plastic production figures
The use of plastics in the packaging and other industries in the country has grown exponentially.
Dr Nii Korley Kortei and Dr Lydia Quansah in an article published on Graphic Online on September 19, 2016 extrapolated that per capita generation of plastic waste in Ghana stood at 0.016–0.035 kg/person/day, with plastics making up between eight and nine per cent of the component materials in the waste stream.
Additionally, over 10,000 tonnes of finished plastic products are imported annually into Ghana.
They cited records from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) which indicate that out of the more than 2,500 tonnes of waste generated daily, only 1,125 tonnes representing 45 per cent, is collected. The remaining 55 per cent, mainly plastics, remain in the system.
“Arithmetically, about 501,875 tonnes of plastics are produced annually,” the article deduced.
Why manage used plastic carefully
Plastics belong to the chemical family of high polymers, made up of a chain of molecules containing repeated units of carbon atoms.
Because of their molecular stability characteristic, plastics do not easily break down into simpler components.
Some studies suggest that plastics do decompose in part over a very long period of time, averaging three centuries.
There have been many suggestions on how to deal with the used plastics menace.
The suggestions include the 2015 proposal to completely ban plastics due to the resultant pernicious pollution, the addition of bio-degradable additives to plastics to make them degradable in the environment, as well as the clearing of all stocks of flexible plastics in the system.
Others are the introduction of re-usable plastics, increasing recycling, embracing the culture of waste separation and segregation and the introduction of incentives to encourage plastic buy-back at shopping malls and other places and public awareness campaigns to change the attitude of the people to the handling of plastics and other wastes.
Ghana National Plastics Management Policy
This is where the selection of Ghana as a “natural first engagement in Africa for the implementation of the Global Plastics Action Partnership” comes as good news.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, will launch the Ghana National Plastic Action Partnership, the country level initiative of the World Economic Forum, in Accra tomorrow (Oct 1).
The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) has developed Ghana’s first National Plastics Management Policy which aims to use the comprehensive management of plastics across their life-cycle and value-chain as a vehicle for sustainable development, enabling a shift towards a plastics circular economy.
The policy is expected to engender an entirely new industry for redesigning, recovering and recycling plastics, preventing pollution of in the environment and communities and creating many new jobs in the green economy.
The Ghana National Plastics Action Partnership (GNPAP) will, therefore, support the government’s efforts to implement the ambitious road map for a circular plastics economy, captured in the National Plastics Management Policy.
The GNPAP will be launched in close coordination with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s ‘Waste’ Recovery Platform, which will promote sustainable waste recovery in Ghana through connecting stakeholders across the waste management chain.
The twin programmes are expected to support the existing work being carried out by the government, as well as initiatives being led by entrepreneurs and civil society actors to accelerate the reduction of plastic waste and pollution in Ghana.