How collective waste management can prevent perennial floods

Sylvester Kwame Osei

Flooding has been an event that occurs every year in Ghana. The disasters witness the earth’s surface being covered by water due to heavy rains. Waste has been a major contributor to the occurrence of floods in Accra and other cities of the country. Taking a holistic approach to waste management would reduce the occurrence of floods to the barest minimum.

According to the World Bank, Ghana underperformed in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on sanitation and ensuring safe and clean environs free from diseases. Ghana has already promulgated the existing laws on waste management; however, enforcement of those laws has been ineffective.

How did we come to a level where we are being drowned with plastic filth? Littering seems to have a cultural dimension. In the past, meals such as rice were served on leaves. After eating, the leaves would be dropped on the ground.

This was ‘positive littering’ then, as the waste leaves over time would dry up and degrade to enrich the soil. This practice went on until the introduction of plastic bags, as people created an impression that eating from leaves was ‘kolo’ (outmoded). People replaced leaves with the use of plastic bags and still continued to litter. There ought to have been an attitudinal transformation of littering, as the plastic bags are difficult to degrade to enrich the soil compared to leaves.

Daunting effects

The UN Development Programme has posited that Ghana generates up to 1.7 million tonnes of waste each year. Accra alone is being swallowed by filth predominately comprising plastic. Every year there is flooding, and it is ‘creating jobs’ for institutions like NADMO. The June 3rd flood-disaster was complicated with the spread of petrol – which caused the death of about 159 people and displaced thousands of households and properties. Government committees sat to evaluate and make recommendations thereof – which are mostly not fully implemented. We still fail as a nation to solve this problem once and for all.

Plastic can break down into pieces and remain in the for soil up to 1,000 years, contaminating soil, waterways and water-bodies. The plastic makes the soil less fertile as it blocks porosity of the soil, making it difficult for the cultivation of crops. Plastics also release toxic chemicals into the soil, making it not conducive for living organisms in the soil. The chemicals also seep into various levels of the underground water-table.

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Plastic Ban in Ghana?

Kenya and Rwanda are among African countries that have banned the use of plastic in their respective countries. Bravo! In Rwanda, it is illegal to import, produce, use or sell plastic bags and packaging. Sanctions against ignoring this directive include fines, public confessions or jail terms up to 6 months. Kenya has a fine of up to US$1900. Other measures have been restrictions or the imposition of high taxes on the use of plastic.

As a nation, do we also need a ban? Ghanaians still have the taste for using plastic. Evidence: buy Kenkey (maize meal with pepper and fish) on the streets of Accra and you may end up with about four polythene bags to take home; one for the ball of Kenkey, one for the fish, one for the pepper and a bigger one to wrap it all up.

Those countries which have pronounced bans however experience plastic smuggling. Government in 2015 announced a ban on the manufacturing and sale of non-biodegradable plastic. John Dramani Mahama (2015) stated that: “If we can’t handle and manage plastic waste, then we may be forced to go the Rwandan way”. There should be conscious efforts to rather opt for plastic waste management that is entrepreneurial in scope. Various end-products such as insulation for jackets, sleeping bags, carpets and more bottles can be produced, with their benefits trickling down the growth pole etc. Technologies such as waste combustors can be put in place to generate energy from plastic waste.

A Call to Action: It begins with you

Charity begins at home, and so does sorting as the first means of waste management. The average home in Ghana has one big bin for all the waste. Whether at home or at the workplace, people should be able to separate plastic waste, metals, glass, food waste etc. Families who can sort waste can even enrich the soil by planting the organic waste back into the ground to serve as manure, and the plastic waste can be sold to recycling companies for further action.

We should also be working toward eschewing littering completely. There should be a conscious effort from people to avoid throwing plastic waste from moving cars, and always put waste in their designated bins. The efforts should be complemented by enforcement of the various environmental bye-laws in the districts, municipal and metropolitan assemblies through sanctions (both rewards and punishment).

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The private sector has a massive role to play in improving the waste management of Ghana. Waste management is a profitable venture. Entrepreneurs can directly invest in the management of plastic as the raw material (waste) is readily available. Zoomlion Ghana commenced operations in around 2008 and has been a ‘monopoly’ provider of waste management. Competition in the waste management industry would create jobs while saving our environment.

Government can reward entrepreneurs who venture into waste management through tax incentives and exemptions. There have been calls on government to ban the use of plastic, but in order to keep plastic manufacturing companies economically productive and viable (amid the ban) government ought to support them with incentives to diversify production into plastic-alternatives.

Children lead the way

One exemplary example of sorting is being undertaken by the ‘Sunday School’ children of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Odorkor. The children contributed financially in building a giant metal bin to collect only water-bottles after Mass each Sunday. As children learn through games, they pick all the bottles on the compound at the end of church service and each of them throw them up into the giant bin in the form of ‘basketball shooting’.

It becomes fun as the kids have to shoot bottles up to get them into the ‘net’. The project was implemented by Rev. Fr. Samuel Korkordi with inspiration from the Papal Encyclical, “Laudato si”. Pope Francis, in his encyclical appeals for a conversation about how we are shaping our world said: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (Papal Encyclical, 2016, p.12). The project has instilled into the Christian community the need to keep their surroundings clean.

The indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste is contributing immensely to perennial flooding in Ghana. Proper waste management would go a long way to salvage the situation and save lives.

The writer is a communications professional. Contact him on skosei001@st.ug.edu.gh or +233246244148

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