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GHANAIANS are using and disposing of millions of plastic bags annually with only a minute fraction of them getting even close to being recycled. Plastic bags indiscriminately discarded is common in Ghana, much so that people collect used bags and weave them into hats, bags, and other fashion accessories. It’s been reported that those who trade trash for cash routinely collect thousands of bags every month.
The devastating effects of plastics on the environment cannot be underestimated. Yet more and more plastic bags imported from China continue to flood Ghana’s market space. With every little item bought a plastic bag exchanges hand. The average shopper at a glance may carry at the very least five to 10 plastic bags of different sizes home. There’s the need to seriously assess and reevaluate the persistent use of plastic bags which have come to be firmly stablished as carriers for our shopping. Plastics as shopping carriers came into existence a little over two decades ago.
Back then shopping with traditional baskets was the norm. Gradually, a few plastic baskets crept in, eventually taking over traditional shopping baskets. Over time, with the onset of the “convenience” of plastic bags as shopping carriers, women who traditionally did household shopping slowly began to leave behind their shopping baskets, even the plastics ones which were trending then. Increasing numbers of women walked into market spaces and shopping centres hands free, with assurance that plastic carrier bags would be offered them. Earlier on people frowned on others walking around black plastic bag in tow.
The practice, (nicknamed ewiase ye sum in Akan, meaning it’s a dark world) carried a tad of embarrassment. However, overtime it became the convention. Today, everyone carries plastic bag around without butting an eyelid. It’s the order of the day. How is the continuous use of plastic carrier bags in our daily lives impacting on our environment and our health in general? Plastic bags are not biodegradable.
They litter our environment, clog our gutters and drains infrastructure, float on our waters and destroy our lands. If all goes well, according to authorities, they may take up to one thousand years or more to break down into smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water. Thousands of animals swallow and choke on improper disposal of plastic bags littering about. They die as a result. Plastic bags are also a serious threat to birds and marine mammals. They regularly confuse floating plastic bags with food. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, a favourite prey of theirs.
In a January 2019 in a Ghana Web publication on the ‘Ban on Plastics’, the Marketing and Public Affairs Manager of Tema Fishing Harbour, Mrs Joana Frances Adda, expressed displeasure at the presence of plastics in the sea because of the effects on the fishes. According to the Ghana Web article, Mrs Adda stated that research from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Fisheries indicated that some of the fishes swallowed the plastics in the sea. She described the consumption of such fish as “not good”. Furthermore, plastic bags when exposed to sunlight for long periods turn brittle and break down into tiny pieces, mixing with soil, lake sediments. The streams then pick them