If statistics being circulated regarding plastic waste and environmental pollution are true, then, we all stand accused one way or another. We would have no plea whatsoever if we were to be put before court for degrading the environment, not only now but for generations unborn.
The statistics are abhorrent. The quest for knowledge, advancement, better and more convenient lives have created in return, a more damaging environment for the next 100 to 1,000 years, depending on the nature of the plastic waste generated.
Somehow, the entire Ghanaian population of nearly 30 million, including babies stand accused because we have all used and continue to use plastic products which are non-degradable today and would not be for centuries. Consciously or subconsciously, we have added to the total destruction of the beautiful environment nature has bestowed on us.
Plastic bottles, bags
In running away from drinking tap water due to contamination and sometimes inadequate treatment, we spend a chunk of our household budget on bottled water which has become a huge business for those in the supply chain. Unfortunately, the statistics making the rounds are unequivocal. It simply says that water bottled in plastic containers and assorted fizzy drinks also bottled in plastics would take 450 years to completely decompose when we dispose of them.
The picture is not different from plastic carrier bags. These days carrier bags of all sizes and colours are found on the table of most vendors including street hawkers. These bags which sometimes end up in open drains choke our water-ways and create flooding. Unfortunately, we would have to live with the menace for 200 to 1,000 years. That is the length of time they are likely to stay in the environment if we continue to dispose of them indiscriminately.
Tinned cans, diapers
But also in this category are tinned cans and baby or adult diapers. If you are the type who likes tinned or canned foods, be warned that each time you open a can of tomato paste, corned beef, sardine or canned fizzy drink, your contribution to environmental pollution will take some 200 to 500 years before decomposition sets in.
What scandalised me most with the information making the rounds is the fact that it takes as many as 550 years for diapers to completely disappear from the surface of our environment when mothers or adult users disposed of them. The days were when washable baby napkins did it for us. Today, in the name of modernity, we have switched to disposable diapers which are not disposable after all. They are hurting the environment badly.
In this millennium, the quest for knowledge has created in its wake, abundant problems for generations to deal with. We are enjoying a seemingly liberated world yet filled with damning consequences.
So how do we take charge of the plastic menace we have inflicted on ourselves? Our environment is under serious threat. Sustainability, public health as well as the economy is at risk and generations yet unborn are likely to face the consequences of our actions today.
Of course plastic ban could be the ultimate answer in our quest to address the massive environmental pollution posed by plastic waste. As a country, the discussion on plastic waste dates back to many governments but unfortunately the seeming lack of political will has brought us to this alarming situation where fisher folks bring back from sea a catch full of plastic waste and open gutters throw out unsightly heaps of it when it rains, littering our streets and communities.
We need to pick up the discussion once again. Otherwise, our dream of a clean country would remain a mirage. The good news is that since plastic waste is now a global issue, we do not need to reinvent interventions.
In Africa some countries have successfully banned plastic use and are continuously improving their environment. Outside Africa, recently, the Indian state of Maharashtra placed a ban on the use of plastic products. The result has been that in the case of carrier bags, people are using sustainable alternatives like jute and cloth bags for shopping.
As a counter measure, they have also introduced punitive steps to deter users of plastic items. For example, first time offenders are fined a huge sum while second time offenders are fined twice what first time offenders would pay. For any recalcitrant offender, if caught the third time, the fine is five times more plus a term of imprisonment.
In many other countries, investors in plastic recycling are seriously encouraged by governments. This has opened doors for the separation of plastic trash by households to feed recycling plants, a booming business in China, for example which has also created massive jobs down the supply chain. These are things that we can learn for Ghana. Our ambassadors and other foreign representatives must be charged to bring home investors in the sector to partner our entrepreneurs.
The Ministry of Business Development must consider encouraging start-ups for plastic recycling. Then, as a society, promote separation of our garbage to feed recycling plants as a short term measure to reduce indiscriminate dumping of plastic waste. The long term measure probably would be a ban on certain types of plastic materials more harmful to the environment.
We cannot fight a clean environment without tackling the overwhelming plastic waste menace that has engulfed us.
REALITY ZONE WITH VICKY WIREKO
Writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org