It’s fair to say that some of my favourite things in life have been plastic, starting at the age of two with Baby Talk, a doll which did indeed talk, coming out with phrases such as “I like to be picked up,” “turn me over” and “more, more!” I don’t know what my parents were thinking, but I loved her. Then there was my Gameboy at the age of 8, the red plastic belt I adored as a teenager… the list goes on.
So I should feel at home here in Tamale, because if there’s one thing you can’t avoid here, it’s plastic.
Go to any restaurant. Take a seat. It’s probably plastic. Order your meal, and the plate it comes on will most likely be plastic. Want some water with that? It’ll be in a plastic sachet. A takeaway? Yep, you got it, you’ll be given the meal wrapped in two layers of plastic bag.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal (apart from having no clue where to start when handed a bag full of takeaway coffee or stew). Plastic is cheap and cheerful and difficult to break. But here’s where the problem lies: although there have been appeals to make biodegradable additives in plastics mandatory, many of the plastic items produced in Ghana are not recyclable.
But even if they were, there are no recycling facilities available. There aren’t even waste facilities. You can walk miles in Tamale without finding a single rubbish bin, which means that it’s pretty standard practice to chuck rubbish onto the street, into the gutter, or just into a nearby field. 1,980 tonnes of plastic waste are produced every day in Ghana, 70% of which ends up in drains or open spaces. Add the harmattan winds to the mix, and suddenly, rubbish is EVERYWHERE.
Which came first, the chicken or the bag?
But there are signs that times are changing. In October, the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology launched a pilot recycling project that will be rolled out in the ministries and in time extended to schools, universities and households. The following month, the same ministry launched the Plastic Waste Management Awareness Creation and Public Education Programme (rolls off the tongue…), which sets out to educate the public and incentivise them to recycle and find alternatives for plastic use. According to the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), GHS1,200,000 (around £400,000) per month, as well as thousands of jobs, could be generated in Ghana from the sale of plastics for recycling.
And in the meantime, on a smaller scale, schemes like RECNOWA’s Handmade Plastic Recycling Initiative are already turning plastic waste into fashion products like laptop bags and wallets.
Baby Talk would only have one response to initiatives like these: ‘more, more!’