- Plastic packaging has been a saviour over the past few years as it helps avoid spillage of liquid products and affords untold convenience as compared to earlier forms of packaging. However, is this saviour not asking too much of its “savee” in the long term?
Almost every consumable product comes in plastic packaging. As we all know, consumers are only interested in the content and whatever becomes of the package is irrelevant to us. Once consumed, the package is handed over to the refuse collection company and the rest is forgotten. I must say for a loss of a better word to use, forgetfulness is an understatement since plastic waste adorns our environment and is hard to miss on our streets. Its resultant pollution can be said to have become an everyday sight hence, the general populace does not see the urgency of the situation.
On the side of our political leaders, there seems to be a sense exasperation generating from failed initiatives and desperation to save our planet as tons of plastic waste is produced daily.
Recently, I read about the ocean cleaning device called the WasteShark, a very brilliant product I must say-even though I haven’t had the opportunity to see it for myself yet. Its purpose is to sieve out waste from water bodies and stop them from going further into the open ocean. However, I share in the disappointment of the inventor; Mr. Hardiman, in the sense that there is very little this device can do in stopping the large quantities of plastic that have already been discovered in our oceans. For the average Ghanaian, this unfortunate situation is no news since our fisher folk toil all day just to haul out plastic waste. The marine life is being adversely affected as they compete with plastic waste for habitat space talk less of the associated alteration of chemical and physical properties of the sea water.
We go all about with the issue of using plastic in packaging hot food. Some experts say some chemical components of the plastic will pass into the food thereby posing untold dangers to our health. This unfortunate situation can be partly attributed to the surge in human interest in the concept of convenience. More plastic is used in packaging lunch for millions of workers daily while reusable lunch bags are becoming more unpopular. Even though there has been considerable advocacy on the reuse of plastic bags, I haven’t come across someone doing that yet. The role of beverage producers in compounding the plastic pollution menace cannot be overlooked as they seem to be moving away from the use of returnable glass bottles to single use plastic bottles which seem more convenient to the consumer. The problem of plastic pollution goes even further when indiscriminate disposal chokes our water ways, consequently leading to floods and resultant loss of lives and property.
The governments of some African countries-Kenya and Tanzania- recently banned plastic bag usage, but there are reports of people smuggling such products into these countries. The government of Ghana has also made considerable efforts in curbing plastic pollution, as evidenced in the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources recently launching an initiative which involves placing dust bins at vantage points in cities, so as to discourage littering. However, indiscriminate disposal seems to be the order of the day as some people oblivious of the structures dump refuse in close range to the bins which are either empty or not filled to capacity.
In spite of all these brilliant interventions, the menace still exists in our society. This goes to prove that something is missing. In my opinion, the average individual does not see plastic pollution as a problem-even though it is our daily activities that produce the waste. I believe the same efforts put into policy making must be employed in placing the responsibility right where it belongs-on the shoulders of boys, girls, men and women of our society. Everyone should be made aware of how their activities lead to plastic pollution and correct methods of disposal as well as minimisation of waste generation. More research, studies and human resource empowerment should be channeled into waste management, particularly recycling. Although these interventions are arguably capital intensive, the companies which are responsible for the production of plastic can be implored to provide funds to support such initiatives since they are the direct beneficiaries of continued plastic production not forgetting their need to carry out social responsibilities.
Industrial laboratory research could be engaged in the discovery of chemicals or naturally occurring organisms that can aid biodegradation of plastic. Just a few years ago, I read about the discovery of a plastic eating fungus which if cultured in industrial quantities, may be of use in reducing the quantity of plastic already accumulated in our oceans. Also the mutant enzyme accidentally created by Prof. John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth, can be actively utilized in recycling plastic bottles completely hence curbing the need to produce new plastic bottles – after intensive cost and environmental analysis are made.
Brainstorming and innovation is needed in finding a biodegradable alternative to plastic packaging while looking for solutions which differ from those suggested above.
Just as in ancient times when our continent overcame seemingly insurmountable odds through genius inventions and policies of “ordinary” people who committed themselves to solving these problems, we can reenact those heroic times. I believe Africa is never short of brilliant minds but the only difficulty is in finding and harnessing them to benefit ourselves and the world at large.