GHANA:Changing phases of plastic waste recycling

Some plastic wastes at the James Town beach

In a football match between teams A and B on a school park, the first goal of the competition was scored by team B, which came as a surprise and shock to team A.

On the other hand, it was a great breakthrough for Team B, who worked hard for the goal.
At the end of the competition, however, team A had equalised and scored the winning goal against team B. In the eyes of team B they had moved from grace to grass; meanwhile, for team A it was a transition from grass to grace.

Depending on where we stand, the situation may look very different. For this reason, permit me to tell you the story of plastic wastes management in Ghana from the perspective of the wining team.

Plastic waste

The plastic waste menace in Ghana is one that, even though has persisted over time, will be history if the pace of current interventions is sustained.

Like a football match, conceding a goal in the first half means you can equalise and win or lose on the one (or more) goals. The former is mostly the case when a team adopts new strategies with hard work.

Similarly, victory over plastic wastes means that the hard work has some new strategies embedded in them. For that reason, active players in the sector, such as, researchers, businesses, governmental and nongovernmental agencies, civil groups and individuals have adopted novel systems that are contributing to the expected outcome.
For instance, in Accra alone, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research- Institute of Industrial Research (CSIR-IIR) currently pays no money for the collection of their wastes after the successful implementation of a source-sorting programme on its premises. Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), University of Ghana (UG), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and other institutional pilot programmes record substantial gains that were missing in the past.

Solid wastes collection companies like the Integrated Recycling and Compost Plant Limited (IRECOP) of the JOSPONG group of companies sorted over 45,000 metric tonnes of plastic wastes from landfill bound municipal solid wastes in nine months of operation, which was not the case prior to the purchase, installation and running of the sorting facility.

Sorting equipment

The advanced sorting equipment rendered the post collection sorting process, easier, faster and effective. Other groups like Waste Segregation Systems collected a little over 3 and 120 tonnes of plastic wastes, in 2019.

The hope is that individuals with good hearts to save the land, preserve the worth of its goodness will not faint but will be spurred on by the old adage that ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’.

Local plastic waste collectors have kept the environment clean by their consistent and devotion to ensuring the waste becomes a resource.

The assemblies and ministries such as the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), the Takoradi Municipal Assembly (TMA), the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) and the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology and Innovation (MESTI), have promoted the collection of plastics and other solid wastes in the past and recent years.

Similarly, institutions like the EPA, CSIR, UG, and KNUST piloted programmes to enhance the collection of the plastic wastes through separation at source schemes.

The story is not complete without making mention of the private sector, such as Fanmilk, Voltic Ghana and Environment 360.

These companies have implemented programmes that ensure that collected waste plastics become useful to recycling and related industries.

The solid waste collection companies, such as Zoomlion, and City Wastes, have structures that bridge the gap between plastic waste and recycling.

In addition, individuals and companies keep bagging lots of money from the waste resource.

More companies keep incorporating recycled plastic waste pellets in their production batches to save cost, while they meet customer demands in the manufacture of dustbins, polythene bags, buckets and other general-purpose items.

Furthermore, there is a national innovation drive in the application of plastic waste.

The collected material finds its way into the production of building and pavement blocks, road construction, inherently smooth plastics plates for souvenirs and advertising, alternative source of fuels and many more.

They have generated locally owned jobs for the unemployed, placed food on the table of a hungry family and given hope to the younger ones in school.

Additionally, the development of a mobile phone App by Roots Digital to locate individually collected plastic waste for pickups to industry has been promoted by the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) in Ghana.

Among the alternative use of plastics, especially the pure water sachet rubber is the production of eco-friendly bags by a locally owned company, Trashy Bags, which incorporates machine sown plastic wastes as liners of an Africa print bag.

The systems and structures put in place by the Government in October, 2019, through MESTI will strengthen the future of plastic wastes management.

That include primarily, the establishment of the Ghana Innovation and Research Commercialisation (GIRC) Centre to transform innovations and research into industries.

Becoming the first African country to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) hosted at the World Economic Forum that aims at eradicating plastic waste and pollution worldwide.

Action

The launch of the Ghana National Plastic Action Partnership to support the implementation of the National Plastic Management Policy towards a plastic circular economy and environmental protection is commendable.

Nonetheless, there are many blank pages to cover in the Ghanaian plastic waste diary.

The innovations shows that we can do more, such as find new ways of converting the unrecyclable plastics into useable forms, effectively collect the plastics from homes, offices, streets, and ports, to recycling factories, warehouses, and back to homes, offices, streets and the ports as useful products.

The abundance of global plastic waste (estimated to reach 12 billion tonnes by 2050) means more jobs and money for our people.

The inclusion of plastic waste in a legal-binding framework under the Basil Convention in 2019 has come in good time to regulate global trade in plastic wastes.

If we make gains in bend down boutiques, what stops us from making similar gains in imported plastic wastes?

We will learn, improve and innovate new ways of reusing, recycling and harnessing the good in the resource which will keep us in the circular economy loop.

It is for no reason that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) selected Ghana as one of the piloting countries in its programme on promoting environmentally sound management of plastic wastes and achieving its prevention and minimisation.

The industry will maximise gains while ensuring that land, water and air are protected.

The God-given resources like gold, diamond, crude oil, rubber latex, bauxite and other precious minerals cannot be described as renewable, however, the uses and gains persist.

In the same vain, plastics are not renewable but with proper management we can keep the gains for a longer period.

In a blessed land like Ghana, we cannot sit and complain like the biblical fool who kept his talent in the ground because the master delayed in coming.

We have no excuse to fail but like the wise servant, we shall work with what we have, make more gains in multiples for the current and future generations.

May God bless our homeland Ghana and make it great and strong.

The writer is a
Research Scientist at
the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) -Institute of
Industrial Research (IIR).
Source: Graphic Online

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