Plastics are choking the world’s oceans, shorelines and rivers. It's getting worse inland. Despite Ghana drowning in plastic trash, the Government has announced it won't be banning plastics, citing the country's growing dependency on plastic products.
How would you tackle the problems of single-use plastic waste in developing cities such as Accra and Lagos?
Last updated: 11 November 2019 6:08 PM (GMT)
By Muntaka Chasant | 1081 words | Reading time: 4 min
A man rides a bike across a timber bridge over a sea of plastics near the center of Accra, Ghana's capital city. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
The Global Plastic Pollution Problem
Latest Plastic Pollution in Ghana Article: Plastic Pollution in Ghana: Urban Trash Heroes
A juvenile Cuvier beaked whale washed up around March 2019 in the Philippines with nearly 90lbs of plastic bags in its stomach. To the shock of researchers, they found "the most plastic" they had ever seen in a whale - 16 rice sacks and plastic shopping bags tightly packed in its belly.1
Plastics are often ingested by marine life who mistake them for food.
A study published in the journal PNAS in November 2019 has found that small pieces of plastics outnumber baby fish by 7 to 1 along the coast of West Hawaii.
Single-use plastics are devastating the world’s oceans, habitats, and marine life.
The heavily polluted Korle Lagoon in Accra. Plastic Pollution in Accra, Ghana/ 5 October 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
A study which investigated the social and economic impact of plastics in the ocean says plastic pollution costs the world up to $2.5 trillion a year.
Another study also estimated the cost of plastic pollution to the world’s marine ecosystem to roughly $13 billion each year.2
Plastic waste can enter the ocean through improper waste management such as the waste generated by coastal population, disposed plastics in uncontrolled dumps and littered waste.
Up to 12 million tonnes of plastics entered the ocean in 2010 alone (Jambeck et al., 2015).3
According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, more than 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the ocean each year.
How Are Plastics Affecting Poorer Countries?
Single-use plastics waste regularly clog sewers, cause flooding and create a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This can increase the risk of vector-borne diseases — including malaria and lymphatic filariasis — in some poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia.
Plastic Pollution in Ghana
Plastics covering a beach in Jamestown, a district near the center of Accra, Ghana's capital city. Plastic Pollution in Ghana/ October 2018. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Waste infrastructure has failed to keep up with Ghana's economic growth, leaving its capital (Accra) drowning in plastic trash.
Streets and waterways in Accra and other urban areas in Ghana are regularly inundated with single-use plastics — including shopping bags, pure water plastic bags, plastic takeaway food boxes, and water/soda bottles.
Despite Ghana drowning in plastic trash, the Government announced on July 2, 2019, that it won't be banning plastics as it is not in the country's best interest. See Ghana's Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation announce and justify it here.
The minister rhetorically asked the audience in one of the videos in the blue highlighted link above: "If you ban something and you are not able to monitor and police it, what do you do?".
Interesting question to pose to the audience.
Is the Government of Ghana admitting it is incapable of designing and implementing a policy? Isn't it exactly the responsibility of the state to implement and enforce a country-wide policy? Who is the Ghana Government expecting to do this for them? International donor partners?
So, in effect, this is what the Government of Ghana said: even if we do ban plastics, we won't be able to enforce it, so no, we won't be banning it. People in Ghana actually use plastics, so why ban it heh?
Here’s my impression of the minister's talking points from the video in the link above:
The minister seemed to have placed users/individuals at the center of Ghana’s plastic pollution crisis in a way to avoid responsibility. He hardly urged producers to do more.
He continuously stressed the use of plastics in industry as why they couldn’t be banned. Fair enough.
Note to Ghana's Minister for Environment: the emphasis is on single-use plastics — just as China recently announced it plans to gradually phase them out. Plastics from the medical industry (crucial for modern medicine) hardly choke gutters or end up in the Korle. It’s the unbranded plastic takeaway food boxes, shopping bags and pure water plastics bags which mostly pollute Ghana's urban waterways.
Statistics on Plastics in Ghana
According to a study, Ghana generated 302,192 kg/day of plastic waste in 2010 (more than 4 times generated in Kenya per day during the same period), and 81% (around 244,835 kg/day) of the waste was inadequately managed - plastic waste dumped in uncontrolled landfills. This did not include ‘littered’ plastic waste.
On average, each person in Ghana generated around 0.04 kg of plastics per day in 2010. Overall, around 6,044 kg of plastics were littered in Ghana every day. In comparison, only 1,466 kg of plastics were littered in Kenya every day in 2010.
Due to dysfunctional municipal waste management services, residents in urban areas in Ghana regularly burn plastic waste in the open, releasing highly toxic substances such as dioxins and furans into the environment.
Open burning of residential trash (with high plastic content) is a major source of air pollution in many developing countries - including Ghana.
More than 28,000 premature deaths in Ghana every year are linked to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.4
See the magnitude of Ghana's dirty air problems in the link below:
Solutions To Plastic Pollution in Ghana
Plastic Pollution in Ghana picture. Copyright © 2020 Muntaka Chasant
The following actions could help to reduce plastic pollution in Ghanaian cities:
Where do you stand - recyclability, reduction, or elimination?
How would you tackle Ghana’s growing plastic pollution problems?
Please leave your comments below, and let us know what you think!
1. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2689346287758609&id=216407245052538&__tn__=-R (Retrieved March, 2019) ↩
2. https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf?isAllowed=y&sequence=1 (Retrieved March, 2019)↩
3. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768 (Retrieved March, 2019)↩
4. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved March, 2019)↩