Many countries around the globe marked Earth Day yesterday, which was dedicated to the mobilisation of political and civic action to eliminate plastic pollution.
In Ghana, however, virtually nothing was heard about the day despite the fact that plastic pollution remains a major environmental challenge.
The Earth Day is celebrated every April 22 during which governments, organisations and individuals use the occasion to create awareness of the need to conserve and protect the environment.
Plastics can cause devastating damage to the environment. They are non-biodegradable and, according to scientists, plastic materials which have been disposed of can stay in the environment for up to over 2,000 years.
An estimated 15 to 51 trillion micro-plastic particles were said to be floating in the world’s oceans in 2014 weighing between 93,000 and 236,000 tonnes.
According to Earth Day Network (EDN), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organisation that leads the global celebration, the global celebrations have been attracting an annual participation of over one billion people in recent times.
The EDN in a statement to mark this year’s observation described the plastic waste menace as a "global crisis”.
“From poisoning and injuring marine life to the ubiquitous presence of plastics in our food to disrupting human hormones and causing major life-threatening diseases and early puberty, the exponential growth of plastics is threatening our planet’s survival,” it said.
The official twitter account of the World Health Organisation (WHO) also said of the 2018 Earth Day, “The health of humanity is directly related to the health of the environment.”
Littering of plastics is a daily eyesore in Ghana. In the cities and towns, despicable images of the streets, gutters and rivers filled with plastics speak of a nation that has not done much in the environment and sanitation sector.
In recent past, a number of Ghanaians have mounted pressure on the government to have the political will to ban plastic usage.
Not long ago, the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr Andrew Barnes, joined the fray. Advocating a ban, he stressed the need for Ghana to ban the use of plastic bags as part of efforts to help President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo realise his dream of Accra being the cleanest city in Africa by 2020.
Speaking to Accra-based Class FM, Mr Barnes was reported to have said that Ghana needed to learn lessons from other countries that have banned plastic bags by finding a more sustainable way of packaging.
“I think people are starting to realise that they can’t just sit around and go on with the old ways; they can’t keep buying and consuming plastics and just throw them away. There have to be proper regulations and structures in place and improvement in rubbish collection systems and then waste disposal, recycling and probably the most obvious one is the ban on plastic bags.”
“Rwanda has done it, Kenya has done it, Morocco has done it, the Scandinavian countries have done it, it’s happening across Australia in many states and the single use of plastic bags is a rubbish idea. People have got to move on; people have got to find more sustainable ways of packaging and shopping,” the envoy was quoted as saying.
But the call for a ban on plastics appears to be a remote possibility. Indeed, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, is on record to have stated that there were many ways to deal with plastic waste, which would create jobs rather than a ban.
He argued that because many people made a living on plastics, the government would allow stakeholders in the plastic business to make inputs on how to tackle the pollution challenge, stressing that although other African countries have outlawed plastics production, Ghana must not follow that path.
The minister may be right on the point that there are many ways to deal with plastics. That could be the way to go in serious jurisdictions because plastics are a resource rather than waste.
But, Ghana has not shown any seriousness in plastic recycling. No wonder out of the estimated 22,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated annually in Ghana, only two per cent is recycled with the rest finding their way to landfill sites by waste management companies, while others land in water bodies and the streets. Even managing the landfill sites is a huge problem for city authorities.
Polluter pays principle
While in office as President, Mr John Dramani Mahama threatened to ban the use of plastic bags if the state of pollution was not addressed.
“If producers of plastics don’t do something about it, then we may have to go the Rwandan way. Rwanda banned the use of plastics, nobody uses plastics and yet they are surviving,” he said, but nothing happened after the threat.
In the absence of a complete ban, some environmentalists including the President of Friends of Rivers and Water Bodies, Nana Dwomoh Sarpong, have called for the application of the polluter pays principle, an environmental law that makes the one responsible for producing pollution to pay for the damage done to the natural environment.
These environmentalists cannot be far from right. It is preposterous for the government to use the taxpayer’s money to tackle pollution of wastes including plastics when the manufacturing companies are making billions in profits while the ordinary people suffer.
Clearly if the country is not ready to ban plastics now, the government must provide workable strategies to deal with the plastic waste menace.
The government, local authorities and companies engaged in plastic production can take control of cleaning up plastics in the communities.
Educating people against irresponsible use and disposal of plastics is also important, as well as the education of businesses on the options available to them for packaging.