Ghanaian caterers and other stakeholders in the food and beverage industry have been called upon to become ardent ambassadors and change agents in the country’s fight against plastic pollution as the menace has very dire consequences on human life.
The Minister for Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation (MESTI) Dr. Kwaku Afriyie( MP) made the call in his address to the caterers’ association in Accra on Thursday, 25th August 2022 at a meeting to brainstorm with the group on plastic waste management and the way forward.
He noted that a vast majority of food vendors, eateries and chop bars not excluding some restaurants, often packaged food in plastic bags which then get discarded indiscriminately after meals are consumed causing huge pollution across the country, especially in big cities like Accra.
He therefore charged the caterers to switch to other options of packing their services that were healthier to their customers and also, more friendly to the environment in order to save the government the huge finances pumped into managing plastic waste which could then be redirected into other developmental efforts.
He suggested the use of biodegradable packaging materials such as paper bags and hygienic banana leaves stressing that some of these leave had medicinal properties that add to the nutrients in the meals unlike plastics that rather leach out certain harmful chemicals into the food and beverages we eat.
Aside his call on the caterers, Dr. Afriyie commended the media for its unflinching support for the ministry’s campaign against plastic pollution through the years and urged journalists to continue giving priority coverage to issues, events and efforts relating to the cancer as such sustained public education was one of the sure measures to make meaningful gains in the plastic waste fight.
He revealed that since plastics entered the country in the late 1990s, Ghana in present day generates close to One Million Metric Tonnes of plastic waste annually but sadly, less than 10 percent of it was being recycled. He said without drastic and deliberate actions by all stakeholders to curtail the phenomenon, the annual rise in the volume of plastic waste, posed a big problem of grave concern for everyone. He observed that, the country’s soaring desire for plastic use and the consequences of poor plastic waste management have led to widespread littering along riverbanks and on the beaches harming aquatic life and recreational activities respectively. “The severity of the problem is also tied to the visibility of plastic waste everywhere, especially the fact that plastics block gutters, causing flooding and the spread of diseases, such as cholera and malaria”, he added.
The Minister further noted that aside the work of the caterers, the threat to the environment by plastic shopping bags had also reached alarming proportions, thus compounding the problem. He disclosed that his interest was particularly in the class of plastic waste he termed “the orphan plastics”, that is those the under 20 microns and which no one wants to collect for the purposes of recycling because they made no economic sense.
Dr. Afriyie stated that his ministry being a policy formulator and himself a cabinet minister, he could champion a law to outlaw the use of plastics in the country but said, he is not oblivious of the fact thousands of citizens also earn their living in the plastics production industry, the main reason Government is engaging all stakeholders that matter, so as not to implement measures that could inflict more harm than good in the efforts to eradicate the plastic pollution canker. He noted that though countries like Rwanda had enacted a 2019 law banning use of plastics, the yardstick for taking such actions may not be exactly the same in the case of Ghana.
In her presentation on plastics in the catering industry, policy measures and the role of caterers, the Director for Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at (MESTI) Mrs. Lydia Essuah, said studies have revealed that the average person ingests approximately five grams (5) of plastics weekly, which is equivalent to the size of one credit card. Meanwhile, inhalation of plastic fibres seems to produce mild inflammation of the respiratory tract.
Mrs. Essuah’s presentation also revealed that some health risks also emanate from the production process of plastics, additives, dyes and pigments found in plastics, some of which affect sexual function, fertility and increase occurrence of mutations and cancers in humans.
Touching on some of the policy measures targeted at plastic waste management, she disclosed that the National Plastics Management Policy received Cabinet approval in May 2020 together with its implementation plan. The aim of this policy is to progressively reduce the use of plastics, recover, recycle and remanufacture plastics. She also mentioned the continuous collaboration with sister ministries like Sanitation and Water Resources, Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, the Local Government, Decentralisation and Rural Development as well as other relevant stakeholders on a number of critically designed initiatives.
On the way forward, some participants at the meeting held that, the country already had good laws and policies on plastic waste but the problem was with, the strict implementation of same. To others too, local authorities such as traditional the leadership must be brought on board meanwhile, some caterers appealed to Government to assist them financially and logistically to enable them effectively adapt to new alternatives for food packaging.