Most people would say that plastic pollution is a litter and waste problem, and is purely only a problem after the consumer dumps their plastic.
However, this perception is biased, industry-motivated, and incomplete.
Over the years, there has been a gap in the management of plastic pollution, and companies still argue, aggressively and publicly, that consumers are at fault for the plastic pollution menace.
How long is the industry going to continue the blame game and watch our environment go into an irrevocable state? It is time we take action now!
In a public webinar dubbed "Let’s talk plastic", organized by Campus Coordinators of the Green African Youth Organization (GAYO) Eco Clubs, a call was made to the general public to shift from the lifestyle of single-use plastics and their unmanaged disposal to more sustainable but practical options like reusable items such as bowls, bottles, plates, cutlery, etc.
In the discussions at the webinar, it came to light that the overwhelming plastic seen around us can be attributed to the evolving busier lifestyles which have resulted from; fast-paced urban lifestyles, especially in bigger cities, and hygienic concerns related to sanitation diseases such as cholera and diarrhea.
Single-Use plastics are seen to be risk-free as compared to the concerns of consumers such as washing reusable plates/cutlery with unclean water leading to illness.
However, Single-Use plastics have a hidden health cost, in addition to their improper management as waste material.
Additionally, cooking at home and serving with dishes has been replaced with fast food served with plastics.
Freezers and microwaves are making it possible to replace home-cooked meals prepared from fresh ingredients with precooked meals bought from the supermarket packed in plastic.
Together with many other disposable practices, there has been an increased demand and production of single-use plastic.
Currently, the plastic waste in the environment overwhelms the capacity of both formal and informal waste management operators.
Single-Use plastics are filling gutters, polluting soils and creating health risks for wildlife and the natural ecosystems.
Whilst advocating for the government to enforce and incentive manufacturers to replace plastics with eco-friendly materials and consumers to rethink plastic intensive lifestyles used, plastics already in our environment can be used as resources for other useful items.
This will reduce the menace of plastic waste engulfing the water bodies and the environment.
One such action is the manufacture of prosthetics utilizing clinical plastics done by Sarfo Isaac Junior and five other teammates in the KNUST Campus.
Delivering a lecture at the Plastic-free Campus Webinar, the Accra Project Coordinator for GAYO, Ms Betty Osei Bonsu stressed the need to tackle plastic pollution across the whole plastic value chain with a focus on prevention rather than curative measures to effectively deal with the menace.
She observed the recycling approach adopted by the government to reduce plastic waste is not sustainable given that recycling is not the end of life of the product and will eventually end up being disposed of in the ecosystem.
Arguing on this note, a report according to the UN on the global recycling percentages, only 9 percent of covers of plastics are recycled while 12 per cent are incinerated with 79 per cent accumulated in landfills or littered in the environment.
The project coordinator maintains countless billions of plastic pellets are used each year to manufacture nearly all plastic products with the food industry being the largest users, posing a health risk to consumers according to a report by the Food Navigator.
She bemoaned plastic use and production has accelerated at lightning speed with more than half of all plastics having been manufactured after 2005.
She pointed out that from the extraction, transportation, refinery, production, distribution, consumption through disposal, most of the raw materials goes into waste hence the need for the government to ensure accountability from production houses.
Ms. Osei Bonsu further indicated that GAYO in collaboration with about 1900 organizations championed by #Break Free From Plastic is advocating the Plastic Free Campaign while coaching solutions to the already existing plastic waste in the system.
Actions to combat the waste in the system are also being carried out by GAYO called the Sustainable Communities Project that utilizes waste (plastics, water sachets, organic waste, coconut husk to resources (key holders, flower pots, reusable handbags, aprons, school bags, farmers overall, charcoal briquette etc.
This GAYO SCP project, not only does it eliminate waste, but also contributes to green Jobs and environmental sustainability.
She added that the Break Free From Plastic campaign seeks to promote alternatives to plastics such as stainless steel, glass, natural fibre cloth, pottery and ceramics.
Andoh Kwaku Amponsah, a Mphil candidate in Oceanography and Limnology with Research focus on Aquatic Microplastic pollution at the University of Cape Coast presenting during the webinar revealed that as part of his research into plastic waste on the Pra Estuaries, there is a staggering amount of plastics in the sediments of the water as well as the gills and gut of the fishes.
The situation calls for policy action and public sensitization arguing that the ban placed on plastics in 2015 by the government was greeted with confrontation from industry players citing economic impact and eventually settling on the introduction of biodegradable plastics.
With the emerging challenge and disposal of “COVID waste” (disposable nose mask) coupled with the tonnes of waste generated each year, Mr Amponsah prescribed some drastic measures including refusing to accept plastics, reuse of plastics in our possession, sorting plastics out of organic waste for recycling as well as the removal of plastics through clean up exercise at the individual and institution level.
Discussing whether the public can really break free from plastic, several individuals seconded to this including Kirk Enu Bright - Research Officer, GAYO; Success Sowah, Project Coordinator in Cape Coast, and Dacosta Sarfo Yeboah, the Vice president of the KNUST Eco-Club Campus Chapter.
It was agreed that even though plastic production plays a major role in revenue generation in the country, the harm it poses creates more costs than can ever be paid in a lifetime, therefore the need to break free from it.
The Plastic Free Campus webinar sought to highlight the plastic mess in the country and hoped to use the university campuses as starting points for plastic-free space and to stir up environmental stewardship.
This is also in line with the campaign done by the Ghana Environmental Youth on the ban of Single-Use Plastics by the government of Ghana.
By Prosper Adankai|Eldad Kwaku Ackom
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