Health & Environment INDUSTRY

WEALTH IN THE DITCH: THE PLASTIC WASTE OUTLOOK

Poor sanitation is one of the greatest challenges that Ghana faces. Vigorous efforts have been made to curb this problem and to achieve sustainable waste management. However, the high rate of population growth and rapid urbanization seem to cancel out the efforts being made by the Government and other stakeholders. Among the numerous problems that the waste management sector faces is the poor and careless handling of plastics after use. Economic growth and changing consumption and production patterns are resulting in rapid increase in generation of plastic waste in the world.[1] The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tons in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tons; thus, 20 times more plastic is produced today than 50 years ago.[2]

Bales of Collected Plastic waste

The use of plastics in Ghana has been rising in the past decades resulting in a corresponding increase in plastic waste. The increased use of plastics in the country has not been backed with the necessary plastic waste management policies, which has contributed to the littering of plastics in most city centers, creating disgusting sights, nuisance, public health and disaster problems. In Ghana, plastic waste is estimated to be 22,000 tons per year and 270 tons per day from plastic packaging. Out of this amount, about only 2 per cent is recycled; the rest of the 98 percent ends up in landfills, streets, drains, farm lands and water bodies. Plastics have various impacts on the environment starting from its manufacturing, usage, and finally its disposal- the most important of them all. The disposal of plastics has become a major concern because most plastics are non-biodegradable and can persist in the environment for many years. Also burning of the plastics can lead to the release of carbon into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

Gutter Infront of St Kizzito Catholic Ch. Nima Rnd  Abt

Most plastic wastes are not disposed of properly and end up in drains, which become drains that are choked with filth, leading to flooding and spreading of waterborne diseases. Indeed, as reported in the Daily Graphic of June 4, 2015, the rains exposed the havoc being caused by plastic waste choking most drainage systems in Accra, especially the Odaw River. Just an average of one or two hours of rain in Accra on June 3, 2015, led to flooding at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, claiming over 150 lives. The same intensity and duration of rain a decade ago would not have resulted in such a disaster. With the increasing amount of plastic waste, the disposal processes are becoming more and more burdensome to the waste management departments and the government as a whole. Apart from choking the drainage systems, most of the incessant littering of plastic waste lead to the destruction of farmlands, and tourist sites such as the beaches and lagoons. In fact, the Korle lagoon is an eyesore and really points out the negative effects of plastic waste on the ecosystem. The plastic waste menace is one of Ghana’s major challenges, to the extent that in July last year the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Hon. Mahama Ayariga announced Government’s decision to place a ban on plastics of below 20 microns from November 2015. Unfortunately, the ban was lifted a few months after its enforcement due to a petition from the Ghana Plastic Manufacturing Association (GPMA).

Further than the negative impacts of plastic waste, I would like to point out a few opportunities that plastic waste presents to all Ghanaians. Waste plastics can be a source of wealth if handled in the right way. Recycling of plastic waste is one of the ways through which a person can create wealth in Ghana and a few have already begun and are enjoying its benefits. There are people who have started collecting water sachets and plastic containers, which they sell to middlemen and these middlemen supply recycling plants with it as raw materials. According to the Ghanaian Times, the major collectors (middlemen) buy the plastic waste at half the price they sell to the recycling companies from the minor collectors (individuals). After deducting their cost of transport and labor, the balance becomes their profit. An interesting point to note is that most of the major collectors started as minor collectors. Some of these major collectors own about three to four trucks, which they use in transporting the waste to the recycling companies. The major collectors have a turnover of between GH¢2,000 and GH¢6,000 a month. This is a clear indication of how plastic waste is putting money in people’s pocket.

Gutter Infront of St Kizzito Catholic Ch. Nima Rnd  Abt2

A few months ago, I met with a group of three young men, who took part in the Tigo Digital Changemakers in 2015. With innovative thinking, they have built a furnace, which converts waste plastics into fuel. Indeed, plastic can be converted into fuel. Plastic is made from crude, so it can be broken down to liquid hydrocarbon. In the liquid fuel production, thermoplastics containing liquid hydrocarbon can be used as raw materials. Interestingly, contamination by undesirable substances and the presence of moisture increases energy consumption and promotes the formation of byproducts in the fuel production process.[3] Some Cement factories use plastic wastes as a fuel. As much as this opportunity requires much start-up capital, one is capable of making profits since the plastic waste can be acquired at a much cheaper price.

Plastic wastes can be used for other money-earning activities such as, sewing bags and raincoats, making art relics and other profitable products. This means the negative impact plastic waste has on society can be changed into wealth creation, which will provide employment opportunities and serve as a boost to the economy of Ghana. If you begin considering plastic waste as a wealth-creation commodity rather than a nuisance, it will put money in your pocket.

[1] Fobil, J. N. (2000). Municipal Solid Waste Characterization for Integrated Management in the Accra Metropolis, (MSc. Thesis.), University of Ghana, Legon, Accra.

[2] UNEP (2009). Converting Waste Plastics Into A Resource, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, International Environmental Technology Centre, Osaka/Shiga, Japan

[3]   UNEP (2009). Converting Waste Plastics Into A Resource, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, International Environmental Technology Centre, Osaka/Shiga, Japan

 

Author: Jacob K. Amengor, threesixtyGh Writer

 

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