Fighting plastic pollution: what Ghana must do as the world celebrates Earth Day 2018

One of the destructive environmental challenges on earth destroying its natural resources at an alarming rate in this 21st century is plastic pollution. There is a widespread use of plastics for domestic, industrial and commercial activities. It is estimated that each year, on a global scale, human beings generate more than 350 million tons of plastic waste. It is estimated that one third of global plastic waste comes from product packaging. These plastics are very difficult to break down and end up being ghosts that haunt the lives of humans. The decomposition lifespan of many of these plastics ranges from 50 to 600 years! Unfortunately, many of these plastics end up being very destructive, destroying our rivers, oceans, forests and biological diversity. The health consequences of plastic waste for human and animal life cannot be underestimated. Inhalation of burning plastic debris causes a variety of respiratory diseases that take lives at a faster rate than the deadly HIV/AIDS. Direct and indirect ingestion of plastic contaminants in bodies of water causes slow strangulation, amoebic dysentery, giardiasis, and other deadly diseases. Due to the devastating nature of plastic pollution, many international bodies, conservation agencies, and governments are thinking of productive strategies to stop it.

The canker of plastic pollution is so great in developing countries like Ghana. Aside from locally generated plastic pollutants, Ghana imports more than 100,000 metric tons of plastic products every year. Many of these plastics become destructive pollutants in the Ghanaian environment. Ghana has to devise strategies to stop the canker of plastic pollution. One way is to make the Ghanaian population aware of the negative health implications of plastics through environmental education programs. The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation should commission the media to carry out awareness and education programs on plastic pollution. The government should reduce the import of plastic products and completely ban plastic products with a high degree of antioxidants. The massive campaign on the use of biodegradable materials as alternatives to plastics must be intensified. Food processing companies and fast food vendors need to engage in dialogue to start using biodegradable or organic packaging for their food. Great lessons can be learned from the biodegradable sheet plates now used in India. Food scientists and engineers should be assisted by funding to develop and produce locally made sustainable biodegradable packaging for their food.

Another innovative way to combat plastic pollution in Ghana is to encourage the recycling of plastic waste into creative and usable products. This would transform deadly plastic pollutants into economic gains for the country. Technological departments of educational institutions in Ghana, as well as interested companies, should be assisted to participate in intensive plastics recycling projects. Lessons can be learned from the EcoDomum company in Mexico that is dedicated to the production of housing products through plastic recycling. Artists engaged in art installations and other innovative art projects that use plastic waste must be assisted through government funding. Additionally, the Ghanaian government must compulsorily instruct businesses that generate many of the plastic polluters to find ways to recycle their plastic waste or risk closing. Import duties on plastic recycling machinery should be removed or reduced to encourage food and beverage companies in Ghana to recycle their plastic waste.

The polluter pays policy should be promoted by increasing sanctions or monetary fines, especially for plastic waste. This would increase the resilient nature of government laws on plastic pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency should employ health inspectors tasked with reporting individuals, households, or industries that pollute the environment through their plastic waste and improperly dispose of their plastic waste for processing. The government should establish a law as part of the environmental laws to arrest and prosecute all people who indiscriminately dump plastic waste in the streets, sewers, etc. from Ghana. The Ghanaian government should collaborate with the traditional authorities of the various Ghanaian communities and assign them the responsibility of establishing and enforcing environmental statutes to combat the threat of plastic pollution in their respective jurisdictions. Some countries are now funding scientific studies aimed at generating genetically modified organisms that can break down plastics in relatively quicker periods of time, within weeks by feeding on them. Ghana can think of funding similar studies, all aimed at fighting the cancer of plastic pollution.

This is the moment when Ghana must join hands with the world in fighting the canker of plastic pollution. Ghanaian government must reduce import of plastics; promote the use of biodegradable materials, especially as packaging for products, while financing projects for the recycling of plastic waste and the generation of GMOs for the consumption of plastic waste. Additionally, the government should strengthen environmental laws and prosecution related to plastic pollution while also stepping up environmental education about the dangers associated with plastic pollution. These strategies would help save the environment of Ghana, save the earth, which is the home and eternal treasure of all biological species.

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