Ghana Recycling Initiative by Private Enterprises (GRIPE), a coalition of manufacturing companies under the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), is calling for a strengthened commitment to sustainable plastic management, rather than an outright banning of plastic in Ghana.
This call was made at a highly interactive one-day workshop on sustainable plastic management for media and academia last week, at the Bank of Ghana Auditorium, University of Ghana.
GRIPE acknowledges the important role plastic plays in this era of urbanisation and modernisation in relation to food storage and packaging, as it considers the plastic industry’s rapid growth in Ghana.
The workshop emphasised the opportunities and prospects for the plastic industry, and the need to strengthen commitment for sustainability in plastic management, rather than an outright ban on plastic.
Dr. Johnson Essuman, Department of Political Science, UG, in a presentation on the topic ‘Plastic packaging and food safety’ indicated that in the absence of an effective system to monitor the quality of plastic packing as food contact material, lack of management for post-consumer single-use plastic packaging – and human factors such as indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste, are the major challenges to the sector.
He also stated that an effective solution to plastic management requires technical or engineering control; such as redesigning existing recycling systems, and appropriate, efficient tools or equipment.
Others are behaviour/attitudinal change on the side of manufacturers, consumers, retailers, and transporters; and management systems including leadership, institutions, accountability, standards, and procedures.
“The importance of plastic packaging is widespread and in response to modern lifestyle requirements – of which some are making food processing effective and efficient; making consumer goods readily available everywhere; creates choice, keeps cost down; boosts economies and creates employment; reduces food waste and loss; and is generally a safe food-contact material,” he explained.
Despite the growth, benefits and conveniences addressed, plastic – especially single-use plastic – poses immense challenges to the environment due to poor management of post-consumer waste.
A UNDP 2017 report indicates that Ghana produces 1.7 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, but less then 5 percent is recycled.
This is characterised by littering of streets and neighbourhoods, choked drains and beaches.
The Chief Executive Officer of AGI, Seth Twum Akwaboah said: “We at the AGI have companies that are operating in the whole chain of plastic, and we consider it very necessary to look at plastic as a major resources and not waste. It is not a waste material because we can have a second life out of plastic; we can process the used plastic into something else that can be very useful.
“The process of converting it into something very useful involves a lot of commitment and funds, which also generates employment and revenue to the state; so, the issue of banning plastic must not be mentioned at all.”
Joyce Ahiadorme, in a presentation on behalf of GRIPE, indicated that GRIPE operates under four main pillars: which are research and data analysis; education and public awareness creation; solution implementation; and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
These they do with the motive of advocating for improved waste management practices; connecting various organisations working to create an improved waste management system; contributing to increased collections and recycling rates; as well as provide employment opportunities through scalable recycling solutions.
“Let us challenge ourselves today to change our behaviour toward the environment; we can start by embracing simple actions like waste segregation and separating the waste we generate at home into plastic and organic components to ensure recycling of plastic.
“Accomplishment of GRIPE so far include: sorting and processing centres to enable diverting waste from landfill sites and the environment; 3,800 schoolchildren participating in recycling via 19 schools; 360 waste-pickers engaged, and 60-plus waste collection points enabled via Voltic iRecycle programme,” she noted.
From an academic perspective, the representing professors of UG indicated that plastic is healthy for food packaging and storage, not undermining its other important economic importance to the economy in general.
The media were also challenged to keep reporting and sensitising the general public on the need to embark on waste segregation to make easier the process of recycling plastics.
It was also revealed at the workshop that plastic can be used in block-making for building construction, road construction materials, and testing for plastic pavement blocks and other construction materials; and whole plastic bottles can be used as a walling material.