Government declares recycling war on plastic waste

[Guinea] Garbage dump in Conakry, June 2004.
Rubbish dumps have provided the unemployed with an income (Pierre Holtz)

Drinking water in Ghana comes in plastic bags not bottles. And these bags are the bane of Korkor Ocansey's life.

Ocansey owns a fabric store in the business district of the capital Accra, and has had enough of the discarded plastic sachets which clog her gutters.

"The water sachets are a menace," she told IRIN on Wednesday.

"Even the slightest bit of rain directs the flow of water into the store. I have lost goods as a result of these choking sachets. The sooner we contain the situation, the better."

Luckily for Ocansey, help is at hand.

This month the Ghanaian government launched a US$1.5 million war on the 270 tonnes of plastic waste generated each day by the capital's three million inhabitants. Officials estimate that plastic water sachets account for about 85 percent of that refuse.

Over the years plastics have replaced leaves, glass and metal as a cheaper, and more efficient means of packaging. But on the down-side the plastics are non-biodegradable and that means if they are randomly discarded then they collect around the city, choking drains, threatening small animals, damaging the soil and polluting beaches.

"Plastic waste has had a terrible impact on tourism, particularly on the beaches east of Accra, where rain water carries the waste," Tourism Minister Jake Obetsebi Lamptey told IRIN. "And the visible mountains of refuse in Accra give foreign tourists the impression that Ghana is a filthy country."

Enter the Recycling Taskforce -- 16 people picked from the government, plastic manufacturers, water sachet producers and city authorities. With just two percent of Accra's plastic waste being recycled, the taskforce will encourage the creation of new recycling plants as well as working with existing recyclers to expand their facilities.

In the short-term the plastic waste will be recycled into kitchen utensils but the taskforce will also push for legislation to promote the use of recycled plastic in the manufacture of items such as dustbins and gutters.

"The public health of society is being seriously threatened and the government cannot sit back any longer and see the situation deteriorate," Kwadwo Adjei-Darko, Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, who oversees the collection of waste, told IRIN.

"We expect recycling to create a healthy environment for tourists, create jobs and save foreign exchange in imports of drugs to fight cholera and malaria that may result from the rubbish heaps," Adjei-Darko added.

The Recycling Taskforce plans to hire a team of waste collectors and supply them with push-carts for house-to-house collection. The workers will be paid US$1 for every 50 kg they collect and the waste will then be stored at one of 10 planned depots around Accra until it can be recycled.

"Waste recycling companies from South Africa and the Netherlands have expressed interest in the project but are waiting for government approval," a source at the Trade and Industry Ministry told IRIN on Tuesday.

At the community level, the taskforce has already begun a television and radio campaign targeting children. They also want to create environmental clubs in schools to help pupils appreciate the damage that littering can do and teach them about recycling.

Adjei-Darko painted a stark picture of what would happen without proper recycling.

"The alternative, I'm afraid, is to completely ban the production and importation of plastics, which would be a very painful action considering the plight of industry and employment. This is avoidable only if we collectively tackle the menace head on," the minister told IRIN.

And that line has persuaded some plastic producers to pitch in alongside the government to fund the US$1.5 million project.

No detailed funding breakdown was available but not all are writing a blank cheque. The National Association of Sachet Water Producers, for example, has said a US$50,000 monthly contribution for clearing plastic waste is excessive.

"It is wrong for the authorities to target only the water producers," Charlotte Anumel, association president, told IRIN, adding she would contribute half the requested amount.

Another source of funding could come from people who drop litter. The local authorities have already obtained legal backing to prosecute litter bugs, with culprits facing six months in jail or a US$20 fine.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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