Plastic pollution is one of the devastating environmental challenges on Earth that is destroying its natural resources at an alarming rate in the 21st century. There is a widespread use of plastics in household, industrial and commercial activities. It is estimated that globally, each year, humans generate more than 350 million tons of plastic waste. It is estimated that a third of global plastic waste is caused by product packaging. These plastics are very difficult to decompose and end up haunting people’s lives. The decomposition age of many of these plastics ranges from 50 years to 600 years! Unfortunately, many of these plastics end up being very destructive, destroying our rivers, oceans, forests, and biodiversity. The health consequences of plastic waste on human and animal life cannot be underestimated. Inhalation of burning plastic waste causes various respiratory diseases that claim many lives at rates exponentially higher than the rates of the deadly HIV/AIDS infection. Direct and indirect ingestion of plastic pollutants into water bodies leads to slow suffocation, amoebic dysentery, giardiasis, and other life-saving diseases. Due to the devastating nature of plastic pollution, many international bodies, conservation agencies and governments are considering productive strategies to stop it.
The scourge of plastic pollution is very large in developing countries like Ghana. Apart from the locally generated plastic pollutants, Ghana imports more than 100,000 metric tons of plastic products every year. Many of these plastics become devastating pollutants in the Ghanaian environment. Ghana must devise a strategy on ways to stop the scourge of plastic pollution. One way is to educate the Ghanaian population about the negative health effects of plastic through environmental education programmes. The media should be mandated by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation to implement plastic pollution awareness and education programmes. The government should reduce the import of plastic products, while completely banning plastic products that contain a high degree of antioxidants. A massive campaign should be intensified to use biodegradable materials as alternatives to plastic. Food processing companies and fast food vendors should engage in dialogue to start using organic or biodegradable packaging in their foods. Great lessons can be learned from the biodegradable paper plates being used in India now. Food scientists and engineers should be assisted with funding to develop and produce sustainable, locally made, biodegradable packaging for their foods.
Another innovative way to combat plastic pollution in Ghana is to encourage the recycling of plastic waste into usable and creative products. This would turn deadly plastic pollutants into economic gains for the country. Technology departments of Ghanaian educational institutions as well as interested companies should be assisted to participate in extensive plastics recycling projects. Lessons can be learned from EcoDomum in Mexico, which is involved in producing housing products through plastic recycling. Artists involved in installation art and other innovative art projects that use plastic waste should be assisted by government funding. In addition, the Government of Ghana must instruct companies that generate many plastic pollutants to find ways to recycle their plastic waste or risk going out of business. Taxes on importing machinery for plastic recycling should be eliminated or reduced to encourage food and beverage producers in Ghana to recycle their plastic waste.
The polluter pay policy should be strengthened by raising the financial penalty or fines, especially for plastic waste. This will increase the flexible nature of government regulations on plastic pollution. The EPA must employ health inspectors charged with the responsibility of reporting people, homes, or industries polluting the environment through their plastic waste and improperly disposing of their plastic waste so that they can be prosecuted. The government should put in place a law as part of the environment laws to arrest and prosecute all people who dump plastic waste indiscriminately into Ghanaian streets, gutters, etc. The Government of Ghana shall cooperate with the traditional authorities in the various Ghanaian communities and assign them the responsibility to establish and enforce environmental regulations to combat the threat of plastic pollution in their jurisdictions. Some countries are now funding scientific studies aimed at producing genetically modified organisms that can degrade plastic in relatively faster timescales, in a matter of weeks by feeding on it. Ghana could consider funding similar studies, all aimed at combating the scourge of plastic pollution.
This is the time when Ghana must hold the world’s hands in fighting the scourge of plastic pollution. Ghana’s government should reduce the import of plastics; Encouraging the use of biodegradable materials, especially as packaging for products, while financing plastic waste recycling projects and generating genetically modified organisms for the consumption of plastic waste. Also, the government should strengthen environmental laws and prosecutions related to plastic pollution while stepping up environmental education about the risks associated with plastic pollution. These strategies will help save the Ghanaian environment, saving the land that is the eternal home and treasure for all biological species.