Sylvester Kwame Osei’s thoughts: How collective waste management can salvage perennial flooding in Ghana

Photo: Collected waste

Flooding has been an event that occurs every year in Ghana. The disaster witnesses the earth 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 in the country. Taking a holistic approach to waste management will reduce the occurrence of floods to its barest minimum.

According to the World Bank, Ghana underperformed in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on sanitation and ensuring the safe and clean environs safe from diseases. Ghana has promulgated already existing laws on waste management. However, the enforcement of the laws has been ineffective. How did we come to the 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 rubbers as people created an impression that eating on leaves was “kolo” (outmoded). People replaced leaves with the use of rubber and still continued to litter. There ought to have been an attitudinal transformation of littering as the rubber is difficult to degrade to enrichen the soil, compared to leaves.

Daunting effects

The UN Development and Program have posited that Ghana generates up to 1.7 million tons of waste each year. Accra alone is being swallowed by filth predominantly comprising of plastics. Every year, there is flooding and it is “creating jobs” for institutions like NADMO. The June 3 disaster flood was complicated with the spread of petrol that caused the death of about 159 people, displacing thousands of households and properties. Government committees sat to evaluate and make recommendations there off, of which are mostly not fully implemented. We still fail as a nation to sold this problem once and for all.

Plastics may break down into pieces and they can remain in the soil up to 1000 years contaminating soil waterways and water bodies. The plastics make the soil less fertile. The rubber blocks the 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 chemical will also seep into the various levels of the underground water table.

Plastic Ban in Ghana?

Kenya and Rwanda are among African countries that have banned the use of plastics in their respective countries. Bravo. In Rwanda, it is illegal to import, produce, use or sell plastic bags and packaging. Sanctions against this directive include fines, public confessions or jail terms up to 6 months. Kenya has a fine of up to $1900. Other measures have been restrictions or the imposition of high taxes on the use of plastics. As a nation, do we also need a ban? Ghanaians still have the taste for the use of plastics. 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 up.

These countries that have pronounced ban still experience plastic smuggling. The government in 2015 announced a ban on the manufacturing and sale of non-biodegradable plastics. 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 which is entrepreneurial in scope. Various end-products such as insulation for jackets, sleeping bags, carpets and more bottles can be produced with its benefits trickling down the growth pole etc. Technologies such as waste combustors can be put in place to generate energy from plastics.

A Call to Action; It begins with you.

Charity begins at home, and so is sorting as the first means of waste management. The average home in Ghana has one big bin for all the wastes. 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. The plastics can be sold to recycling companies for further action.

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

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

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

Children lead the way

One exemplary deed on 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 metallic 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 throws it up the giant bin, in the form of “basketball shooting.” It becomes fun as these kids have to shoot it up to get 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. “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affects us all” (Papal Encyclical, 2016, p.12). The project has instilled in the Christian community the need to keep the surroundings clean.

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

Sylvester Kwame Osei is a communications professional. He is also an MSc. candidate in Environmental Sustainability and Management at Wisconsin International University College. Contact him on [email protected]

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