Ghana news: Plastic waste management in
Ghana - a complete failure and the
Dr Nii Korley Kortei and Dr Lydia Quansah
Dr Nii Korley Kortei and Dr Lydia Quansah
19 September 2016
Plastics belong to the chemical family of high polymers, essentially made up of a long chain of
molecules containing repeated units of carbon atoms. Because of this inbuilt molecular stability,
plastics do not easily break down into simpler components.
Plastics do decompose, though not fully, over a very long period of time,on average 100 to 500
years according to research. Commercially available plastics; polyolefins such as polyethylene,
polypropylene, etc. have been further made resistant to decomposition by means of additional
stabilisers such as antioxidants. Therefore, soil micro-organisms that decompose things such as
wood and other materials cannot break the strong bonds common to most plastics. This depends
on the type of plastic and the environment to which it is exposed.
The plastic bag made of polyethylene or polypropylene which was first introduced in the 1960s
is regarded as the symbol of the consumer society. Around one-third of the plastics produced
worldwide are used for packaging. In Ghana, per capita generation of plastic waste stands at
0.016–0.035 kg/person/day and plastics make up between eight -nine per cent of the component
materials in the waste stream. Currently,most products are packaged in polyethylene which
forms about 70 per cent of the plastic waste in the municipal waste stream.Additionally, over
10,000 metric tons of finished plastic products are imported annually into Ghana.
Available records from the city authority, Accra Metropolitan Assembly indicate that out of the
over 2,500 tons of waste generated daily, only 1,125 tons representing 45 per cent is collected.
The remaining 55 per cent, mainly plastics, remain in the system. Arithmetically, about 501,875
tons of plastics are produced annually. Where do they go? Where do we put 501,875 tons of
plastic every year that is specifically designed not to break down?
It is noteworthy that every piece of plastic ever made and disposed to a landfill still exists. Why?
Plastic is not a natural product, therefore, nature has no way of breaking it down other than 100s
to 1000s of years of time.
The average consumer is led to believe that the plastic is gone once it is put into a bin. The trash
industry hauls it away never to be seen again. That is where our problem really starts. What do
we do with an item that was made to be almost indestructible and has very little worth?.
Generally, they are not supposed to be used only once, which contrasts strongly with their long
lifespan. Thin plastic bags in particular symbolise a serious ecological problem. Research has
shown that the estimated decomposition rates of most plastic debris found in our environments
• Foamed plastic cups: 50 years
• Plastic beverage holder: 400 years
• Disposable diapers: 450 years
• Plastic bottle: 450 years
• Fishing line and net: 600 years.
This information is indeed very frightening. We strongly believe none of us will be alive to
witness the end of these plastic materials as we indiscriminately dump them around. Thus, we
should start plans to save the environment for future generations of humans, as well as animals.
Here are some suggestions to curtail the plastic waste problems in the motherland.
1. Gradual ban on plastic materials
In a number of countries such as France, India and China, plastic bags, either all kinds or just the
light ones, are now banned. In recent times, His Excellency President J. D. Mahama hinted on
the possible ban on some plastic products which was a brilliant idea though such a ban is yet to
be implemented. All concerned citizens should advocate for the ban of plastics simply because it
is doing us more harm than good regardless of what the plastic businessmen say; they are more
interested in their profit than the welfare of society.
2. Biodegradable materials as an alternative
Retailers and also fast food chains should make an effort to find more environmentally friendly
alternatives, in addition, much can be done at the individual level: returnable or refillable bottles
made from ecologically harmless materials, lunch boxes with home-made meals rather than fast
food, picnics or parties using environmentally friendly materials such as paper cups and
plates instead of plastic materials.
3. Genetically Modified Organisms (bacteria, fungi etc.)
Genetically modified organisms could be engineered to eat up these unwanted plastic wastes.
Recently in the Kyoto University, a bacterium (Ideonella sakaiensis) has been discovered to
produce a never-seen-before enzyme that can degrade plastics in few weeks. This gene could be
isolated and incorporated into fungi or bacteria of choice to salvage this menace through a
comprehensive Biotechnology programme. We strongly believe Ghanaian scientists can develop
an antidote to this problem.