June 26, 2019

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Can Ghana move from plastic maniac to plastic revolution to save life on land and life under water?

Can Ghana move from plastic maniac to plastic revolution to save life on land and life under water?

Today is World Ocean Day, which gives us a timely occasion to reflect on the problems and solutions for the health of our Oceans from which we depend on our food, clean air and the balance of a favourable climate for human life on the planet.

It is no secret that Ghana is a big producer of the plastic waste that currently threatens the marine life. Accra alone produces 270.000 tons of plastic annually, half of which is not collected properly – we all know the consequences of this maniac too well with floods, breeding space for diseases, hazardous burning of plastics near households etc. before much of it eventually end up in the ocean. However, now a revolution might be emerging.

On Friday, 31st May 2019, the CEO of REVOcean, Nina Jensen, was in Accra to officially launch the Plastic Revolution Foundation, a part of REVOceans commitment to finding solutions to the global plastic pollution in the ocean.

The Foundation which is led by former UN Environment Programme head, Erik Solheim with support from other top-notch team of experts in the field is being started in Ghana due to the country’s huge struggle with plastic litter and also in relation to the ambition of President Nana Akuffo-Addo to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa.

Globally over 8 million tons of plastics equivalent to 15 tons per minute end up in our oceans annually 80% of which is a result of human activities on land, and 20% from activities on the sea such as the oil industry, fishing and shipping.

When plastics get into the ocean, 94% of it sinks to the ocean floor and takes extremely long decades or even centuries to break down due to the cold temperatures of the ocean floor and the very low exposure to UV radiation. Overtime, some of these plastics are broken down to microplastics or even smaller, nanoplastics. Plastics in our environment has lots of serious implications for marine life as well as for humans. So many marine organisms have died from ingestion of plastic waste which they mistake as food. Plastics can also block vital functions in the gut thereby preventing efficient nutrient uptake. Currently, research has shown that no ocean space is plastic free, even the deepest water at the Marianne group in Asia is affected. Research also shows that marine species are carrying micro plastics – which eventually will end up on our plates. In 2015, according to a study, Ghana generated 302,192 Kg per day of plastic waste, 81% of which was inadequately managed. Also Ghana imports about 2.58 million metric tonnes of raw plastics annually of which 73% effectively ends up as waste while 19% is re-used according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sadly, less than 0.1% of the plastic waste is recycled implying that almost all the plastic waste generated ends up in the environment. In Ghana plastic wastes in choked drains continue to contribute to massive flooding in the capital leading to the loss of lives and properties. Also plastics in sewages have acted as a breeding ground for bacteria of vector borne diseases such as cholera and malaria.

Ghana’s waste management system is originally handled at the local level by the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies. Unfortunately, due to dysfunctional waste management services at these local levels, residents in both rural and urban communities often burn their plastic waste which also results in the release of toxic substances that pollute the air. Air pollution from the burning of plastic waste has alone led to many premature deaths in the country.

The World Health Organization estimates 28,000 deaths each year from air pollution in the country. To start mapping the eco-system of the plastic waste industry, institutions, organizations and people involved a national waste recovery platform has been set up and is coordinated by UNDP in Ghana. The platform has lately been in close dialogue with Plastic REVolution.

With the Plastic Revolution initiative, the plan is to develop a value change turning non-recyclable plastics into diesel – a product that the country is in need of any how – to get the plastics out of the environment. In the early hours of Friday May 31st, Young reporters for the Environment- Ghana followed the delegation that took CEO of REVOcean, Nina Jensen on a tour to inspect how waste generated at the market finds it ways down to the river and the lagoon and eventually at the Korlebu beach. Inspect the accumulation of plastic waste on the beaches Nashiru Salifu from MESTI, Heather Troutman, consultant for Ghana’s Plastic waste policy, Nina Jensen, CSO REV Ocean, Hilde Opoku, SDG advisor at MoF, Prof Ingrid Schjølberg Dir NTNU Ocean, Ellend Lindsay Awuku and Joel Ayim Dankwah from UNDP (behind the camera).

Jensen was in the country to speak on the role of Academic Research in optimizing ocean health and wealth at a two days’ summit on Building High Value Sustainable Ocean Industries organized by the Norwegian Embassy in Ghana in collaboration with the Petroleum Commission Ghana at the La Beach Hotel, Accra from 30th to 31st May, 2019.

Upon our question on how they will engage citizens Jensen emphasized the fact that Plastic Revolution Foundation is going to work together with all stakeholders to solve the plastic waste management canker in the country.

The foundation aims at setting up systems that allow for the removal of plastics while at the same time making available opportunities for the garbage pickers and using a circular economy approach to ensure job avenues. On World Ocean Day we encourage all to be part of the solution, move away from plastic products or make sure your plastic waste is placed in a container that will take it to proper waste management.

Source: Ellen Lindsey Awuku Board Director, Young Reporters for Environment-YRE [email protected]

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