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.
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 are:
• 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.