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The plastic menace: 70,000 PET bottles produced monthly

BY: Edmund Smith-Asante

Ghana is currently experiencing a plastic menace, with almost everything, including food and non-food items, being packaged in plastic, without any elaborate plan in operation to deal with the waste generated after the products have been used.

This lacuna is happening at a time when the 10 per cent environmental tax imposed on plastic product producers has yielded close to GH¢1 billion, without a dime being released for its intended purpose — to manage plastic waste.

With 5,700 tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (about 70,000 plastic bottles) being produced and used every month, the country faces a major environmental catastrophe, while a National Plastics Management Policy developed last year by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), with the collaboration of sector players, has only made it before the Cabinet.

The sector Minister, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, told the Daily Graphic yesterday that as the national policy was currently before the Cabinet, he was not able to speak on the government’s plan to deal with the plastic menace until the document had become operational.

Separate interviews with the Environmental Service Providers Association (ESPA) and the Ghana Plastic Manufacturers Association (GPMA), however, indicated that whereas some gains had been made in controlling flexible plastic, such as empty water sachets, handling waste from used PET bottles was becoming a nightmare.

PET nightmare

“To a large extent we have the sachets under control because we have various interventions.

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I think the big case now has got to do with the PET bottles.

Indeed, we have a lot of companies which have migrated from glass packaging to PET bottles, so currently in Ghana we are consuming about 5,700 tonnes of PET bottles every month, so we are talking about 68,000 or 70,000,” the President of the GPMA, Mr Ebbo Botwe, told the Daily Graphic.

He said that quantity was only for plastic bottles produced locally for water, beverages and the like, with a lot more being imported.

“So if you put five or seven per cent on whatever we are producing here, then you will have a fair idea of what we are consuming,” he added.

The Executive Secretary of the ESPA, Ms Ama Ofori Antwi, said sachet waste was more under control because people were picking the empty sachets, but that it was the PET bottles that were creating the nuisance and were all over the streets with a little rainfall.

She suggested that if the producers declined to pay for plastic bottles to be cleared from the environment or they failed to find a solution to the mess created after the contents had been consumed, PET bottles should be totally banned or phased out.

“Those who produce must make sure that the products they are using are recyclable.

If it is not recyclable, they have a responsibility to retrieve them from the system, so that it will not destroy the environment,” she said.

“Once they pollute, they have to ensure that they get rid of the pollutants from the system, but they maintain that because they are paying tax, they expect the government to do that, which is wrong,” she argued.

Ms Antwi explained that in other jurisdictions, tax refunds were given to people who had come on a visit to those countries when they were leaving “because the products they buy end up in their home countries which have the responsibility to ensure that the product is disposed of properly”.

Recycling

Mr Botwe, who is also the Chairman of the Plastic Waste Management Programme, Ghana (PWMPG), comprising stakeholders of various groups, including the GPMA, the National Sachet and Packaged Water Producers, the Pure Water Waste Collectors Association and various sachet and drinking water sellers associations, was of the view that recycling was the best way to effectively deal with used up PET bottles.

“The recycling of PET bottles is just about two per cent, which is negligible.

We have proposals for the government because, indeed, no company can really do PET recycling to make profit.

There should be some form of subsidy or we have the polluter pays principle,” he said.

“In fact, we did get the government to levy us the 10 per cent environmental tax, which it has been collecting. We have close to GH¢1 billion now in the Consolidated Fund and that money is not being released.

That money is meant exclusively for plastic recycling.

“The only way to effectively manage plastics is recycling. If you are not recycling plastic waste, forget it,” he stated.

Environmental Excise Tax

Last year, at the National Strategic Planning Meeting of the GPMA, Mr Botwe asked why local plastic manufacturers were compelled to produce oxo-biodegradable plastics, in addition to paying high import duties plus the 10 per cent Environmental Excise Tax (EET) to fight the national plastic waste menace, while there were no mechanisms at the entry points to ensure that all imported flexible plastics such as carry bags, sheets and rolls complied with the national oxo-biodegradable flexible plastic policy and standards.

“As per the law that established the 10 per cent EET, proceeds from the 10 per cent EET are supposed to be lodged in a special fund — the National Environmental Fund Authority — for plastic waste management to support relevant plastic waste management initiatives, especially plastic waste recycling in the country.

“Sadly, to this day the authority has not been formed and the proceeds from the 10 per cent EET have been diverted into the Consolidated Fund,” he stated at the meeting.

In the absence of the authority, the ESPA has called for the polluter pays principle to be invoked by compelling producers and users of plastics to pay for the proper disposal of waste from such products to save the environment from the plastic menace.