File Photo/ The Conversation.
A disaster that struck Ghana’s capital city of Accra on June 3, 2015, made a plastic producer re-think his business. The rainstorm that fateful day caused a flood that was exacerbated by plastic waste caught in the drains at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle. People who scrambled to safety at a petrol station were killed after it caught fire. At least 250 people died on that tragic day described as “Black Wednesday.”
Among the stringent measures by the government to prevent such incidents in the future was the threat to ban single-use plastic production. This pronouncement triggered an introspection by a plastic manufacturer Mr Nelson Boateng, the founder and chief executive officer of Nelplast Ghana.
“Most of the blame was shifted to plastic bag manufacturers, and I felt very bad because I know I am one big contributor to that problem. I had to find a sustainable way of dealing with the plastic and that’s how we came about with the design of the plastic bricks,” Boateng said.
The indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste ranging from discarded bottles and plastic bags is evident along the side of the roads. This same plastic wave has also affected the country’s once-pristine beaches.
Before 2015, Mr Boateng’s manufacturing firm Nelplast had been making disposable water sachets. At age 13, Boateng worked in the plastic manufacturing company but purchased it in 2012 after it was put up for sale. But he had to rescind his decision after watching on his television screen the news of how rescuers braved the waters to save lives.
50% of this is single-use plastic and only 9% has ever been recycled. Every day around 8 million pieces of plastic makes their way into our oceans. There are now 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic in our ocean and 46,000 pieces in every square mile of ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tonnes, Condoferries’ plastic in the oceans has revealed.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, Ghana generates about one million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Out of this, only 2-5% (22,000-55,000) is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, in the sea, or is burned (38%), land (28%), sea (23%), or burned (11%).
Sustainable Goal 14 is keen on life below water… “Oceans also absorb about 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, and we are seeing a 26 per cent rise in ocean acidification since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Marine pollution, an overwhelming majority of which comes from land-based sources, is reaching alarming levels, with an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter to be found on every square kilometre of ocean.”
The SDGs aim to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution, as well as address the impacts of ocean acidification. Enhancing conservation and the sustainable use of ocean-based resources through international law will also help mitigate some of the challenges facing our oceans. How humanity manage this vital resource is essential and to counterbalance the effects of climate change.
Banning bags, along with another plastic packaging, is the most commonly used remedy to rein in plastic waste. So far, 115 nations have taken that approach, but in different ways. In France, bags less than 50 microns thick are banned. In Tunisia, bags are banned if they are less than 40 microns thick.
It is against this data that there is a need to identify innovative ways to waste management.
The Plastic Bricks.
Some 300 people pick plastic waste from the beaches and streets in Accra and trade it to Nelplast. But its founder is saddened by its inability to accept all the plastic waste that arrives at the manufacturing plant on daily basis.
“The pickers collect 20,000 kilos of plastic daily, but Nelplast only can recycle three thousand kilos daily,” Boateng bemoans.
Nelplast Ghana commenced producing bricks with plastic for construction in 2019. It has produced some 250,000 paving bricks with each weighing approximately, 7.5 kilos since its establishment. Mr Boateng and his team won the Africa Innovators award been by the UN Development Program for the plastic brick project.
His discovery is a-two edged sword – ridding the West African country of plastic waste and protecting its waters and offering the average Ghanaian the opportunity to own a house at an affordable price. The administrative office of the Nelplast operates from a one-bedroom prototype plastic house in Ashaiman, a suburb of Tema, in Ghana. This was preceded by years of research into recycling plastic waste and creating treasure from trash.
“A cement paving block is 75 cedis per square metre compared to ours, which is 50 cedis. In terms of durability, ours is more durable as plastic is the binder in the product,” says Boateng.
At the entrance of the main dome of the Action Chapel International House of prayer at Spintex in Accra, are well laid plastic bricks. Reception of the products is rising but this feat didn’t come on a silver platter.
While Boateng is motivated by the June 3 disaster in the national capital, a social entrepreneur Amida Iddrisu is motivated by the need to keep the Northern regional capital Tamale clean.
Amida Iddrisu, 28, is the Co-founder of Hamy’s Comfort; a start-up based in the Northern region which recycles plastic waste. The vision of the business is to create eco-friendly products with a Ghanaian identity that can compete on the international market.
“With 1 ton of plastic waste, we recycle it into products like regular pillows, furniture, Travel Neck Rest, Baby net rest, doormats, backrest, and armrests,” Iddrisu hints.
The staff of the Canadian Embassy in Ghana, Savannah Signatures, an NGO based in Tamale and hotels are among her clients.
The young entrepreneur envisions recycling at least 40% of the total plastic waste generated in the Northern regional capital Tamale annually. While the discussion to ban single-use plastic in Ghana has died a natural death and is yet to be resurrected, innovative efforts by individuals may be Ghana’s only hope for sustainable waste management.
The writer is a fellow under the 2021 NAREP Climate Change Media fellowship of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.
By: Zubaida Mabuno Ismail/ www.zamireports.com/ Ghana.