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Plastic Pollution, Rains, Floods, and Problems that Won’t Go Away

The World Economic Forum estimates that Ghana generates around 0.84 million tons of municipal plastic waste annually, but only 5% of this plastic waste is recycled.

As the rains clam up, it no longer comes with the proverbial goodwill and promise of a bountiful harvest as was known in the past, at least not for the people of Ghana’s capital, Accra. Floods, urban heatwaves, and darkness are what this southern city of Ghana has become known for. In extension, this is what Ghana, the once purported beacon of hope for Africa has become known for.

Plastic pollution, one of the major causes of Ghana’s perennial flooding, is nowhere near been resolved. The World Economic Forum estimates that Ghana generates around 0.84 million tons of municipal plastic waste annually, but only 5% of this plastic waste is recycled. Single-use plastics (food packaging, Styrofoam) and synthetic hair extensions made of plastic are some of the commonest causes of this harm to our environment.

As part of the solutions to battle the rise in the use of plastics, a rigid waste management system needs to be established. Places to dispose of these unwanted hazards need to be provided city-wide, something that has not been followed through to the latter. Education on plastic pollution and its implications not only for our well-being but the economy hasn’t been preached enough.

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Read Also: Yaw Nsarkoh Writes: The Annual Floods in Accra are Here Again – Are We Children of a Lesser God?

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Speaking at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-4) in Canada last month, the Ghanaian representatives reiterated the need to price plastic by instituting a plastic pollution levy on Polymers (the raw materials used in making plastic). The money generated will be paid to member countries to help tackle plastic pollution in each country. The idea is that plastic has come to stay, and by monetizing its usage, funds are generated to keep our cities clean, set up infrastructure to tackle plastic pollution and properly remunerate those responsible for picking and collecting used plastic.

In theory, actions and discussions are underway to curb these challenges, but on the ground, we are still relying on individuals and volunteers like the buzstopboys to take on the damning tasks of keeping Accra clean. This year, some things will remain constant, as the rains come down heavily, people are going to be displaced, floods will fill homes, and decisions on how to curb this sad cycle will be made. But by August, these promises will be long forgotten. An expensive cycle that we can’t let continue.

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Floods in Accra

In addition to the flooding caused by the choking of gutters, Accra keeps getting hotter, with or without electricity. Urban heatwave, the science of cities getting hotter as the natural land cover is removed and condensed surfaces such as pavements, roads, and buildings that retain heat replace them worsened with plastic waste, which releases greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, dioxins and methane.

The citizen is not exempt from the blame. To begin with, we can simply start reusing and recycling plastic. We can objectively make it a principle not to litter. We can minimize our use of single-use plastics.

These problems (floods, heat) look like they are not going away anytime soon, and as we keep adding to this mess, another foreseeable problem will be food shortage due to the amount of plastic that gets washed up into the sea, with fisher folks already complaining of catching more plastic than fish lately. In Kenya, they are complaining of plastic particles in their tea.

Policy and implementation are everything. By putting monetary values to the basics like fines on people who litter, paying livable income to collectors of used plastic, and increasing the cost of import on polymers as suggested by Ghana’s delegation at the INC-4 and the Green Africa Youth Organization, we should be on our way to tackling this menace.

As more cheap and innovative alternatives to plastic spring up, big corporations that solely depend on plastic should act as the trailblazers in effecting a change that would be systemic. Sustainability is no longer a distant term but a better option. In the end, it will come down to you and me, to be the change, because policymakers have shown time and again that it is only a problem if we are talking about it now, which can’t go on forever. As you turn in the heat tonight, and as floods keep you in traffic for extended hours, know that we play a crucial role in these problems that just won’t go away.

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