Ghana is swimming in plastic waste. Should the government introduce a plastic ban? In a guest commentary by climate advocate Joshua Amponsem, he speaks to Ghanaian activists about the future of plastic in the country.Plastic waste fills the streets and chokes gutters, rivers and lakes in Ghana’s cities and towns. The problem is so urgent that the country’s government announced plans to impose a partial ban on light plastics in mid-2015. But a backlash amongst business leaders and policy makers forced the government to abandon the plan and instead propose a new law that would force plastic manufacturers to make biodegradable plastics.
The move makes Ghana one of the few countries to commercialize oxo-biodegradable plastics, as they are known. Still, most industries are refusing to comply with the new standards. Save a few businesses such as Ghanaian water firm Special Ice, a majority are still selling water in standard plastic, for instance. As a result, the plastic problem persists.
With plastic manufacturers’ reluctance to make their product biodegradable, is the plastic ban in fact the way to go? It’s a pressing question for environmental activists like myself and I asked it of a number of young active citizens who gathered from all parts of Ghana in January for the first edition of the “Active Citizenship Webinar.” Here are the results.
Some believed a plastic ban wouldn’t work. It’s a waste resource that should be utilized and banning it could have an adverse economic impact. Samuel Boakye, a business consultant living in Accra, asked: “How much of our population is able to gain employment from the sale and manufacture of these bags? How would the ban affect such people?” He believes the government must instead increase recycling and help provide necessary capital to facilitate the use of plastic waste for the production of other plastic products like chairs, tables, and bowls.
Speaking as an environmental advocate, I mentioned that employment and the economy could get a boost if plastic bags were banned and replaced with paper and cotton versions. People won’t lose their jobs, they will sell paper and cotton bags instead and we will need more farmers as a result. Furthermore, I explained that in Kumasi, a city in southern, Ghana, cotton bags were successfullly introduced in December ahead of Christmas.
Either way, say environmentally-conscious Ghanaians, the country needs to deal with its plastic problem, as its water bodies are gradually being filled with waste and fishermen sometimes end up with a bumper catch of plastic rather than fish. “Preserving our marine life, such as turtles, is very critical because it can generate more foreign exchange as tourists come in to observe turtles on our beaches at dawn,” Belinda Kulordzi, a history student at the University of Ghana, said. Educating people about the harmful effects of plastic waste is key, she added.
But Kelly Anyomitse, a public health activist and the curator of the Active Citizenship Webinar, highlighted the fact that education will take several years to change the attitude of Ghanaians toward plastics. He asked whether we could rely on education alone, given the extent of pollution and the resulting damage.
Ghana’s plastic problem has persisted for years and so far nobody has managed to come up with a robust approach to managing it nationwide. Ultimately, those taking part in the discussion believe a mix of different approaches is the best way to tackle the problem.
Increasing the price of plastic bags would make them unaffordable and unattractive to many people and would cause a gradual, organic phase out. People would be more likely to opt for cheaper paper bags and more expensive, but long-lasting cotton bags. With nuisance plastic bags more or less gone, existing recycling companies could then focus on collecting and recycling water bottles, leaving us with cities free of light plastic waste.
As active citizens of Ghana, we are hopeful that our nation will place more value in protecting the air, food and water offered to us by Mother Earth and in ensuring quality environmental standards to promote good health and a better life for all Ghanaians.
Joshua Amponsem, is an environmental activist and climate advocate with a degree in Environmental Science. He focuses on youth mobilization for environmental events and advocacy through volunteerism, and social media. While an undergraduate, he founded Green Africa Youth Organization – a non-profit organization, which serves as an advocacy anchor in environmental protection. With strong love for nature, Joshua works for environmental transformation in Africa through leadership and collaboration with like-minded youth activists and organizations across the world.