Paradise of plastics:…Addressing plastic waste to ensure effective sanitation and clean water

Transforming Ghana's Plastic Waste For Economic Gains

It is a common phenomenon in many Sub Saharan countries to have places where food and water are sold to the general public in the open. They are commonly found in and around offices, market places, public schools, churches, football stadia, lorry parks, construction sites amongst others.

These items are even sold in traffic in the cities, traders move around to places where events are held with large crowds like school sporting events, political rallies, funerals, religious conventions, crusades, independence parade sessions etc.

Some of these vendors of drinking water and food use walkways and pavements as the permanent location of their businesses to market their goods. Apart from food and water, traders display other paraphernalia openly that creates massive waste especially in the cities.

Apparently, water borne diseases such as typhoid fever, hepatitis, cholera and dysentery are easily contracted due to the circumstances surrounding the sale of these items. Even in the mist of COVID-19, contracting the corona virus can be escalated due to the nature of the spread of the diseases.

Vendors display on sale raw food like fruits which are consumed almost immediately they are purchased, regardless of how it has been handled by the vendor or potential buyers in time past. These food stuffs are exposed to flies, dust and other toxic substances and any attempt to consume them raw possess a great danger to the consumer and people they come into contact with.

There is the need to impose safety requirement on street vendors/hawkers regulate ways of food and water handling that is likely to be safe and healthy. This is expected to curtail the high risk of the spread of diseases. In some instances, food and water are cooked and packed in a seemingly healthy environment but the post handling, marketing and distribution of these cooked food and drinking water is where the threat is.

Metropolitan Municipal District Assemblies (MMDAs) have health and safety departments who are required to certify food vendors healthy to handle food. However, this responsibility has not been well executed. People sell in our streets, hotels, restaurants, eateries who have not been certified by a recognized health facility or health professional. Public health concerns can cause a major outbreak of diseases especially in our densely populated communities. An increased and rapid hygienic methods of handling food and water is needed to safeguard the general health of the country.

A lot of advocacy and awareness is needed, public educated must be enhanced to minimize the bad handling of food and water. We are very fortunate to have over 200 radio stations, the relevant health regulatory agencies and other stakeholders must develop and disseminated content to be aired on these media platforms.

The Information Services Department (ISD), Ministry of Health, Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Sanitation, Ministry of Information, NGOs, Civil Society Organization, Community Based Organization, Religious Bodies are but a few of such useful identifiable groups that can be used to address the poor handling of food and water.

The ministry of Education as part of its reforms can introduce into its syllabus a component that will inculcate such best practices in our kids right from childhood through to their developmental stages. This will prepare them to be responsible adults with a conscious mindset for the future and the environment. There are best practices of countries who have established these principles from basic schools and it can be moduled to reflect our developmental and sanitation needs as a country.

There is the incessant increase in the use of plastic products in West Africa. Society has evolved so much from the days where ice water was sold in plastics cups in the early 90’s. In time past food items were sold in leaves and other non-plastic items. Advancement in society and the comfort it offers has exposed us to the use of plastic materials for the purchases of every item we buy form the market.

Advertisers have added so much value to the use of plastic materials by means of constant advertisement on traditional and social media. These adverts are aired every day on various platforms. For the working class and schools, it’s a major comfort for them.

Wrapping of food with leaves and tree barks dates back many decades into history, this phenomenon has experienced changes over the period. the year 2000 and beyond has generally seen a sharp revolution and acceptability from the ordinary process to a sophisticated packaging. These packaging also serves as advertisement in themselves for the products.

Packaging is now normal with our everyday life especially in the manufacturing, service industries and delivery sectors of our economy. The conventional use of using leaves and paper for packaging gave way for polyethylene film materials and other plastics.  Very strict quality control standards were expected to be adhered to in the food and water packaging industries.

This was to see to the reduction of the contamination of food and water for the consumer. The use of polyethylene for packing makes has a unique appeal and has a comparative advantage over the use of leaves and papers. Polyethylene has lightweight, not chemically reactive and hardly does one reactive to its usage. Such features make them more convenient as carrier and hygienic packaging materials as compared to paper and leaves.

The sachet water and other water bottling companies are the specific sectors that uses polyethylene most considering the nature of the business and products. The impact of their produce on the environment and water bodies has not been handles effectively well. Dealing with plastic waste and all other forms of waste has not been the best.

Other sectors like the food, groceries, beverage and other sectors also moduled this practice. Interestingly, the use of plastic materials for product packaging largely addressed the health related concerns but brought waste management challenges. Waste management affects SDG6,11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 and this presents a bleak future on the promotion and attainment of the SDGs.

There are predominantly several packaging principles in existence, but the single most important expectation of packaging is making sure it does not impact society and its waste management negatively. It again must sustain the life span of the products that are packaged for the consumer.

Environmental agencies must encourage plastic producers to move into the production of bio-degradable plastic. The daily waste collection is far lesser than the waste generated per day, this causes excess of waste in the system. We see the spillover in the streets, market centres, gutters, water bodies etc. The impact of these waste on the environment, sea and nature is very devastating to say the least.

Accra alone generates in excess of 3, 000 metric tonnes of waste each day, other cities like Tema, Kumasi, Takoradi, Koforidua, Techiman, Kintampo etc also generates a huge amount of waste on a daily basis. A large portion of this waste is left uncollected and they block the drainage system in the cities and its surrounding environments.

Admittedly, several factors contribute to flooding, common amongst them are; buildings of structures in water ways.  The least of rainfall causes massive flooding; this has been experienced each single year for the past two decades. Unfortunately, we precious lives and properties, NADMO and other relevant state institutions mandated to address flooding and its effects have always been reactionary.

There is the urgent need to remove the plastic wastes from our environment and keep our drainage system clear of plastics and other foreign waste materials. we have had devastating experiences as a results of flooding and a clear setback on desire to achieve the SDG targets.

Fisher folks have also complained because of the dumping of plastic waste into the sea, it endangers marine life. A quick reminder must be made that anything waste we indecently dispose off is likely to find its way into the sea; an effort against SDG13. The proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels keeps declining each passing moment. Similarly, ocean acidity has increased and it is expected to exponentially rise by 100%-150% by 2100 as against 26% since pre-industrial times.

A private sector led initiative with series of discussions with institutions like EPA-Ghana, Waste Management Department (WMD) of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Town & Country Planning (TCP), Public Works Department (PWD), Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLRD), Ministry of Health (MOH), relevant private sector organizations, NGOs gave birth to the plastic waste-recycling programme.

The Ghana Plastic Manufacturing Association (GPMA) kicked against the proposals to levy plastic waste producers, considering the nature of plastic waste on our daily activities, it is time to revisit that proposal to find a permanent solution to the negative effects of the waste generated.

Obviously, little commitment and lack of policy towards sustainable plastic waste collection and management. There is no progress in the plastic menace, the discussion with plastic manufacturing companies must be revisited now, any delay in addressing it will spell doom for the environment.

Modern technology on recycling suggest there is use for plastic waste. The process of recovering scrap or waste plastic and reprocessing the material into useful products can also create decent job for the many unemployed youths. This will attract investment and expand the economy, it will demonstrate our commitment towards the SDGs.

The writer is an SDG Advocate and Lead Partner SDG Alliance-Ghana

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ghanasdg Facebook: SDG Alliance-Ghana Tel. # 0244204664

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