The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation issued a directive that from the 1st of November 2015, all plastics produced in Ghana should be Oxo-biodegradable.
The directive also indicated that all plastics produced in Ghana should be above twenty micron. The focus of this write up is to analyse whether these directives could solve the plastic waste challenges facing Ghana.
Let me first try to elaborate on the extent of the plastic waste problem. Plastics are non-biodegradable unlike other products such as paper.
This characteristic of plastic which makes it a good packaging material for all kinds of products also makes it very complicated to manage after usage.
This complication stems from the fact that plastics can stay in the environment as long as time itself. Even when plastics have broken up into smaller pieces, those small plastics still remain in the environment.
This means that if plastic is not disposed off properly and finds itself in the drain, it will remain there for as long as a thousand years before degrading.
Another rather complicating manifestation of plastic being non degradable is when it is disposed off in the landfill together with other kinds of waste such as organic. The other kinds of waste will degrade leaving the plastics.
This means that after the landfill has been decommissioned to be used for other purposes such as construction, the compaction of the land will not be intact.
We have all come face to face with the nuisance created along the county’s beaches by plastics. The rivers and even farm lands have not been spared of this scourge. Livestock such as goats and sheep feed on plastics and they die.
Marine species such as turtles and whales mistaken plastic as food which they swallow leading to their death. One can go on and on recounting the negative impact of plastics on the environment.
Various attempts have been made in dealing with the plastic waste from different perspectives. Notable amongst these attempts is the trade in plastics for recycling. The various private stakeholders took the bull by the horn in 2007 and promoted plastic waste as a commodity. As with other business driven initiatives, the plastic waste has become a commodity for trade. Many plastic waste collectors, both major and minor, traverse the country in search of the plastics for sale to recycling companies.
This initiative led to the establishment of many recycling companies in Ghana. Today, these companies are recycling about one hundred and twenty tons of plastic waste a day.
There are presently over five thousand individuals engaged in the plastic waste collection and selling business.
There has also been an attempt at segregating the plastics at source for recycling.
A pilot programme run by the Plastic Waste Management Program-Ghana and Global Communities in Accra as well as another project by the Swiss Embassy in Ghana was greeted with great success. This is a clear indication that segregation of waste at source could easily succeed nationwide.
The Plastic Waste Management Program-Ghana also combined forces with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to arrest and prosecute littering offenders.
This also achieved great success as most of the pedestrians became aware of the dangers of littering and even warned those who ignorantly littered.
Within a few days of implementation, the catchment areas became relatively cleaner. This once again proved that if law enforcement on littering was pursued holistically across the country, the plastic waste menace could have been reduced to the barest minimum.
Despite these piecemeal approaches from mainly public and private sector stakeholders, the plastic waste challenges greatly persist as there are no governmental structures or frameworks for dealing with it.
The only distanced governmental approach was to develop the National Environmental and Sanitation Policy (2011) with an accompanying strategic action plan. These documents have however become one of the many road maps that were never followed. The government also in 2011 instituted the Environmental Tax of twenty per cent on all plastic imports.
This was reviewed to 10 percent in 2013. The proceeds from this tax was supposed to have been lumped into a fund to be known as the Plastic Waste Recycling Fund to be used for the production of litter bins and thrash bags as well as promote recycling. This has never been achieved for many intangible reasons.
As we continue marking time as a country, the volumes of plastic waste in our environment continue to grow since our packaging and consumption patterns have greatly changed in favor of plastics. Many more products are packaged in plastics due to the fact that it is about the only affordable material that can hold liquid apart from glass.
H.E the President therefore being frustrated by the ugly appearance of plastic litter at every corner of the country, made a public declaration in July that government will be forced to ban plastics if the stakeholders do nothing about the rather embarrassing situation. Ironically however, Government is the major stakeholder in this endeavor.
The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation exhibited strategic leadership by taking a cue from the President’s declaration.
It triggered a discussion among stakeholders which subsequently led to an agreed stakeholder directive that all plastics produced and imported into Ghana should be made Oxo-biodegradable by the 1st of November 2015.
The directive also indicated that all plastics produced in Ghana should be Twenty micron and above. The latter directive on the micron has been suspended after a petition by the Ghana Plastic Manufacturers Association.
The justification being that if the oxo-biodegradable additive will be introduced, then there will be no need for the ban on thickness since the plastics that are not captured for recycling will however degrade.
Oxo Biodegradable Plastics
Oxo Biodegradable Plastics are almost exactly the same as conventional plastic. It is made with the same raw materials, machines and workforce.
This means that workers will not lose their jobs when this kind of plastic is introduced. There is no difference in strength or durability during its useful life, and it is available now worldwide, and in unlimited quantities at very little extra cost of about three to five percent of the production cost of normal plastic.
The only difference of the Oxo- Biodegradable plastic from normal plastic is that a pro-degrading formulation of one percent is added to 99% of normal resin at the factory during production.
The fundamental point about oxo-biodegradable technology is that the formulation turns ordinary plastic at the end of its useful life in the presence of oxygen into a material with a different molecular structure.
At that stage it is no longer a plastic and has become a material which is inherently biodegradable in the open environment in the same way as a leaf. It cannot then entangle wild creatures nor block drains, and it is no longer a form of visual pollution. It does not leave fragments of plastic, and it is not toxic.
Oxo-biodegradable plastic biodegrades in a much shorter timescale than ordinary plastics and does not contain heavy metals and is safe even for direct food contact. It can be also be recycled during its useful life.
Oxo-biodegradable plastics have been tested according to internationally acceptable standards such as the American Standard D6954, or UAE Standard 5009:2009, or British Standard BS 8472.
The United Arab Emirates for example have made it compulsory to use oxo-biodegradable plastics for a range of plastic products, because they know they will never be able to collect all the plastic waste from their deserts and coastline. Their law also applies to plastic products which are commercially imported as well as those that are manufactured in that country.
Can the EPA enforce Oxo biodegradable Introduction
There is always the tendency to ask the above question because of previous examples ofnon enforcement of laws in Ghana. The following are however the guidelines that the Environmental Protection Agency has outlined for implementation.
- A sample of the oxo biodegradable additive which has been independently tested by an approved test house and shows that it meets the criteria set out in the Standard Test Method ASTM D 6954-04 must be submitted to Ghana Standards Authority (GSA).
- A sample of film incorporating the Oxo additive manufactured by an established film manufacturer in Ghana should be tested in the laboratory of the additive supplier to determine the degradation profile.
A report must be submitted to GSA to confirm that the degradation allows the film to be fit for purpose. This means that the degradation profile should show a clear “dwell time” during shelf, and complete degradation within 4 months (based upon an average constant temperature of 25 degrees C).
- The GSA will then conduct a ‘real life’ test on a similar film sample to determine the Degradation End Point’s using ASTM D 3826 and confirm that this is not longer than 120 days after exposure to the normal environmental conditions in Ghana, and at the same timenot degrade before it has served its purpose.
Once an Oxo additive has met all the above criteria, it can receive approval from GSA and be registered by EPA for import into Ghana and use by film manufacturers in Ghana.
In as much as the above are water tight to prevent infiltration of fake or unapproved oxo biodegradable additive, the EPA still has a daunting task to ensure compliance. Private sector players such as NGOs must support the EPA in this endeavor.
Is the Oxo biodegradable additive Available in Ghana
Despite this watertight approval process, ReverteOxobiodegadable has already been approved in Ghana.
This has been possible because the issue of Oxo biodegradable plastics has been on the discussion table for over seven years; when a team of experts from Wells Plastics in the United Kingdom visited Ghana under the auspices of the Ghana Plastic Manufacturer’s Association. This team visited the then Vice President, H.E John DramaniMahama.
Considering the long and tortuous journey that Ghana has travelled in its quest to manage plastic waste and the fact that the evidence still shows that we have only scratched the tip of the iceberg, we have no choice but to take this Oxo biodegradable opportunity. All stakeholders who have roles to play; be it small or big must commit to these roles in earnest and sincerity.
More often than not, the private stakeholders’ business interest hinders the smooth running of such bold initiatives from the government.
The plastic waste management efforts, since its inception, have been championed by the private sector. Government’s singular effort in introducing oxo-biodegradable plastics must therefore not be distracted by any excuse whatsoever to ensure a better environment for posterity.
By Quaranchie Adama-Tettey