By: Christopher Pappoe |
Even though plastic is useful in terms of convenience, cost, packaging, etc, its negative impacts on humans and the environment cannot be over-emphasised. Air and land pollution, flooding, human health and social effects are amongst some of the negative effects of plastic waste that have become a challenging task for individuals, industries and international organisations.
It is estimated that the decomposition of biodegradable plastics such as those used in producing sachet water, bottled water and bottled drinks can take as long as 400 years. No one will live so long to witness decomposition of plastics. Inversely, plastic usage is expected to increase due to increasing population, thus, we should start plans to save the environment for future generations of humans as well as animals.
There are few suggestions that I wish to put before government, metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), the private sector and other stakeholders to deal with the plastic waste menace.
The suggestions are based on two main areas; Recycling and Enforcement of Legislations.
Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastic and reprocessing the material into useful products, sometimes completely different in form from their original state. Recycling, in simple terms, is defined as the conversion of used materials (waste) into new products.
A) Establishment of a Recycling Plants in all Districts
Establishment of a recycling plant is quite expensive and technically involving. The following factors must be taken into consideration when establishing a recycling plant; nearness to reliable water source, availability of reliable power, availability of raw material (plastic) and labour. These requirements are all in the reach of our MDAs across the Volta Region.
It is however worthy to note that some recycling plants in Ghana will have to import plastics in order to feed their plants in order to optimise their use. This may not be due to lack of waste plastic materials in our cities and towns, but rather lack of organising the collection of these plastic materials in our cities.
The Assemblies will therefore have to regulate the collection of enough plastics for the plant before its establishment. The plant will be responsible for chopping the plastic materials into pellet forms and later used to manufacture other plastic materials such as chairs, waste bins, bags, cups, packaging materials, etc. The pellets can also be sold to other plastic recycling firms or exported outside the country to generate foreign exchange.
Again, the recycling plant should be located at a central point that would serve the entire district because since establishing a plant is capital intensive, one plant per district should be enough. Nevertheless, MMAs will probably need more than one plant because of the vast economic activities in those areas. I suggest that assemblies who find it difficult to implement this, can partner with private companies known as public private partnership (PPP)
B) Establishment of ‘Buy back Centres’.
A ‘buy back centre’ in this context refers to an establishment which is dedicated to the buying, selling, and storage of used or waste plastic materials.
In order to reduce and subsequently eliminate the indiscriminate dumping of plastic waste, people must have a good reason not to dump plastic around. They must be assured of gaining or making some money when they collect or pack these plastics. People will be ready to separate plastic waste from thrash and pack them down in order to sell later and make money.
These buy back centres should be established at vantage points in all villages and towns, taking into consideration the population and the economic activities in the town. The number in each district will depend on the economic viability of the district. For example Ho, Hohoe, Kpando and other municipalities will need more buy back centres than districts with less economic activities such as Central Tongu, Adaklu, Agotime-Ziope. The centres will then transport these plastic wastes to the recycling plants for treatment.
- Legislation and Enforcement
Many have argued that Ghana has enough laws in the area of environmental sanitation but the implementation has not been the best. This is based on the fact that, altogether, Ghana has a little over 100 laws, regulations, frameworks and legislation in this area but the problems still persist.
The policy framework guiding the management of hazardous, solid and radioactive waste includes the Local Government Act (1994), Act 462, the Environmental Protection Agency Act (1994), Act 490, the Pesticides Control and Management Act (1996), Act 528, the Environmental Assessment Regulations 1999, (LI 1652), the Environmental Sanitation Policy of Ghana (1999), the Guidelines for the Development and Management of Landfills in Ghana, and the Guidelines for Bio-medical Waste (2000).
All these acts and regulations emanate from the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP). NEAP (1988) provides the basic policy framework for environmental and land management in Ghana.
While some of the existing laws and regulations need amendments to be in tune with new developments, the local government and other stakeholders must also endeavour to enact bye-laws that will help regulate the dumping of plastic wastes in their communities. The bye-law should cover the following areas:
A) Every household should possess a dustbin.
Currently, only a little of over one million households possess dustbins (Zoomlion, 2016). This means that apart from the central containers provided by the Assembly in partnership with private waste management companies, where some residents dump, the rest dump in bushes, gutters, streets, streams, rivers, etc.
The law must therefore make it mandatory for every household to own at least a dustbin to enable them store their waste and not dump it indiscriminately. If this is ensured, they will then be encouraged to separate the plastic waste from other solid wastes for sale and make some money.
This will not only help to prevent indiscriminate dumping of plastic wastes but other types of refuse. The segregation, re-use and recycling of waste at the household levels or points of generation will then be encouraged.
Local authorities should also allocate dustbins at vantage points throughout their jurisdiction/communities to make it easier for people to dump in them, when they step out of their various homes.
B) Spot fines and Strengthening of existing Institutions
People who are found dumping or throwing rubbish of any kind around should be prosecuted or fined a stipulated fee. Anyone who refuses to pay must be sent to the law courts for a punitive action. To do this, there will be people employed on full time basis to serve as ‘sanitation guards’. This action would help check people’s attitude; the fact that they know someone may be watching them is enough deterrence.
The law should also redefine and strengthen the role of the environmental health offices throughout the country. More people should be recruited to help the present staff with inspection, prosecution and education duties.
C) Legalising the National Sanitation Day by the Government of the Day
When the National Sanitation Day is backed by law, people will be forced to participate in the exercise. Currently, people do not participate as they feel not obliged to do so but when backed by law, they will have no other option than to fully participate.
When this is instituted and once every month, clean up exercise is done in each district, after close of work, the plastic wastes will be separated and sent to the recycling plant for treatment and reuse.
D)Instituting an Award Scheme (Motivation)
An award scheme may be set up to recognise, encourage and motivate the cleanest communities and shame the dirtiest ones. Each district should be demarcated into smaller units like unit committee areas for separate monitoring monthly on the cleanliness or otherwise of the areas. At the end of every quarter, an award should be given to the cleanest area/s and in same vein, the dirtiest area/s should be announced.
This will serve as a form of motivation and deterrence to winning and losing local councils respectively. A sanitation award committee should be set up at the national and district levels to implement this policy. The monies generated from the spot fines and court fines can be used to fund this award scheme.
E) Sensitisation/Education/Awareness Raising
In order to easily implement all the above suggestions, the MMDAs must embark on a comprehensive and consistent sensitisation exercise through television and radio programmes which must be sustained even after the objective has been achieved.
This sensitisation programme must aim to educate the general public on the need to keep their environment clean, devoid of any plastic menace; the effect of that on their health, monies that government uses on sanitation, monies that individuals can make out of packing and selling plastics among others.
When people understand and appreciate why they should keep their environment clean, then recycling plastics to rid our environment of wastes shall be easy to achieve. It should also assess governments’ financial implications managing the waste menace which could otherwise be used to solve other challenges in other sectors like education, health and transportation.
The sensitisation should also aim at bringing to the doorstep of the populace government’s plans on sanitation issues in general and plastic waste recycling in particular.
F) Research into Alternatives for Plastics
The government should set up a specialised committee to look into finding alternatives for the plastic waste. Should we return to the past and use leaves? Or should it be paper or we should maintain the bottled water and ban the sachet ones. Or better still we should ban the plastic importation altogether as exist in some countries like Rwanda. Or we need to consider increasing the thickness of the plastic film used in manufacturing carrier bags from the current 9-11 micrometers to a minimum of 30 micrometers. The committee should come out with a report that will engender public discussion.
Over the past decade, the MMDAs have taken giant steps by entering into partnership with private waste management companies like Zoomlion Ghana Limited to achieve their mandate of keeping their communities clean, and this has proved undoubtedly a fruitful partnership.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that more efforts need to be put in place to involve every Tom, Dick and Jerry to achieve the ultimate objective of a clean country, having in mind the President’s vision and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) 3 and 5.