Sylvester Osei: Should Ghana Ban Plastic?

Recently, DW published an article by environmental activist Joshua Amponsem which raised a discussion on plastic ban in Ghana. As the conversation grows on whether Ghana should ban plastics or not, I will like to draw attention to the possible investment opportunities that this challenge provides and how the government could provide an enabling environment for entrepreneurs who wish to contribute in solving the waste crisis.

According to the World Bank, Ghana has 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 managements. However, the enforcements of the laws have been ineffective. The abysmal enforcements resulted in perennial flooding in the capital city and the devastating June 3 disaster which claimed lives and destroyed properties in the Accra metropolis. Government announced a ban on the manufacturing and sale of non-biodegradable plastics (effective 1 November 2015). 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”. A year from the enactment of the directive, plastic waste filth still prevails.

The plastic menace has been attributed to attitude of Ghanaians. There have been some schools of thought that argue that attitudinal change will wipe out the filth. However, what happens when we all change our attitude and eschew littering on the streets?

The Project

A visit to the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Odorkor (Accra) reveals a plastic collection project executed by the Children Ministry. The project was initiated by Reverend Fr. Samuel Korkordi, a priest and an artist. He was inspired by 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 affect us all” (Papal Encyclical, 2016, p.12). In this regard, the children put up financial contributions to build a giant bin for plastics only. And as children learn through games, they pick the bottles at the end of church service and each of them throws it up the giant bin. It becomes fun as you have to shoot it up to get into the ‘net’. The priest in our interaction tells me that the project has instilled into the Church community the need to keep the surroundings clean.

The project is nearly a year old but it is threatened by the lack of interest by recycling companies. The activity chain is complete when the packed bottles are bought up by the companies for reuse. However, they have not been forthcoming; plastic recycling companies pick up wastes that will yield high profits, for example sachet water plastics.

The project defeats suggestions of littering and as the reasons for our dirty streets. Even when the citizenry dispose plastic waste appropriately in bins, the processing of the plastic waste will be problematic. It is under this background that government will propose a total ban on plastics when it is actually a preferred commodity in Ghana. 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 pack it up.

A Call to Action

Articles of this nature will first suggest government interventions. I believe entrepreneurs can directly invest in the management of plastics for huge profits. Zoomlion Ghana commenced operations in around 2008 and has been a ‘monopoly’ of waste management. Making business out of waste can fetch profits to entrepreneurs and also help save our environment.

There ought to be a culture of sorting waste from our homes. The average home in Ghana has one big bin for all the wastes; plastics, food waste etc. Families who can sort waste can even enrichen the soil by planting the organic waste back into the ground to serve as manure.

Government can reward entrepreneurs who venture into waste management through tax incentives and exemptions. With the right policies, individuals can be rewarded for sorting their waste which makes recycling easier. In order to keep plastic manufacturing companies viable, government ought to support them with incentives to diversify production into plastic-alternatives.

Sylvester Osei is an environmentalist and climate change advocate. He has studied Global Environmental Studies from Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. He has engaged with Green Youth Generation in introducing pupils to best environmental practices and online environmental sensitization through social media. Currently, he is the social media personnel at USAID’s West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WABiCC)