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Environment Ministry engages pickers to reduce pollution

BY: Maclean Kwofi
Dr Kwaku Afriyie (middle) Minister of Environment,Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), interacting with some executive members of Kpone Plastic Waste Collectors Association during his tour. Pictures: EBOW HANSON
Dr Kwaku Afriyie (middle) Minister of Environment,Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), interacting with some executive members of Kpone Plastic Waste Collectors Association during his tour. Pictures: EBOW HANSON

The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation has begun an engagement with plastic waste pickers (collectors) in the country as part of measures to reduce the impact of plastic pollution on the environment.

The move will also enable the pickers who are key stakeholders in the value chain to make an input to help influence policy decisions in ways that will support efforts to rid the country of the plastic waste menace.

Last Wednesday (March 9), the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Kwaku Afriyie, led a delegation from the ministry to meet with plastic waste pickers at the Spaceplast Ghana Ltd, at Odorna, La Plastic Collectors and Tema Landfill Site, all in the Greater Accra Region, as part of the initiative.

Majority of the waste pickers collect the plastic wastes and sell them to firms that recycle them into other finished items such as chairs, shoes, construction materials and toothbrushes.

The minister interacted with the pickers on ways the government could support them to build their capacities in order to collect all plastic waste, including the under 20-microns plastic bags such as the type used to package gari, sugar and groundnuts for sale. Due to their low economic value these types of waste plastics are not mostly picked and they find themselves into the ocean.

The challenge

Approximately, 13 million tonnes of plastic waste, equivalent to one garbage truck load every minute, enter the oceans annually.

The Pew Charitable Foundation estimates the volume of plastics finding their way into the world’s oceans will triple by 2040.

In Africa, less than 20 per cent of plastics are recycled currently, far below the European Union (EU) target of 50 per cent by 2025.

But Ghana, with a five per cent recycling rate, has emerged as a regional frontrunner committed to creating a domestic recycling industry that protects the environment and the impoverished.

Economic model

Speaking to the media after the visit to the landfill site in Tema, Dr Afriyie said the government’s agenda was to rid the country of all plastics using an economic model that would protect the livelihood of the pickers and protect the environment.

“We want to collect the plastics to the barest minimum but we want to use an economic model that will protect the livelihood of the collectors and protect the environment.

“Therefore, my visit here is to engage the pickers, get to know their challenges and see how best we can help improve their operations so that they collect or pick all plastics in our environment,” he said.

Economically feasible

The minister said the under 20-micron plastic bags had become a problem because there was either no or less incentive to make it economically feasible for the pickers to invest their energy.

"So, I want to know the incentive mechanism we should put in place to make it feasible for the collectors to pick every plastic in the environment.

"I also know you have problems with the authorities when transporting the collected plastic waste to the recycling plants. Tell us what we can do to address the situation," he told the pickers.

Addressing the issue

Dr Afriyie said the government was prepared to address the plastic issues in the country head-on.

"Beyond protecting our environment, we have an international obligation to ensure the number of plastics that enter the sea is reduced drastically.

"We need to do our part to support the international effort so that plastics, which are a menace everywhere, can be controlled,” he stated.

Pickers commitment

The Chairman of the Plastic Waste Collectors Association, Mr Elvis Opong, commended the minister for the visit and said the association and its over 10,000 members would do their part to ensure that the country achieved its target to reduce the impact of plastic waste on the environment.

“We are ready to help the government rid the system of all plastic waste but we also need to be helped in various areas to execute the task.

“For starters, we need tricycles to help move the waste to the factories. We also face police extortion when transporting the waste from the communities where the plastics are collected to the factories,” he said.