Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Recycling Waste

Plastics were first introduced into the Ghanaian environment in the late 1990's in response to the need to enhance the packaging of industrial and domestic products. Since its introduction, plastic use and its indiscriminate disposal by consumers have contributed to the already existing challenge of poor sanitation and pollution of the environment. Not a single day passes in the life of the Ghanaian without using plastics in activities at home, work or school. Food is served in polythene bags, eaten directly from them and then disposed off indiscriminately with impunity into open drains. The result, leading to choked gutters and other health issues including cancer. As such, some individuals have adopted the method of burning their plastics as a waste management approach. Though the situation is extremely worrying, surveys continue to show the widespread nature of open burning of waste across the country especially in urban areas.

Plastic waste is either burned outside in the yard or garden or at land fill sites. However, plastics that are burnt are raw materials that could otherwise be recycled or picked up by waste collection companies. In countries like Benin and Nigeria, polyethylene waste is fully recycled. In Ghana, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has continuously monitored manufacturing companies and advises the general public and other stakeholders to comply with the environmental standards of waste management. Despite this, it is quite common for people to burn plastics to avoid hauling it onto local disposal sites, especially in areas where there are no municipal waste collection services. Burning inadvertently has become the only way that many rural and urban people have to get rid of their plastic waste. However its associated health effects are enormous. During burning of plastics, carbon monoxide and furans are released directly into the atmosphere without passing through any form of treatment or filtration process. Apart from this, other toxic emissions are released into the atmosphere, leading to serious health problems whose symptoms might not be immediately visible or known. When plastics such as PVC's are burned, harmful quantities of dioxin, a group of highly toxic and dangerous chemicals, are emitted, which can be accumulated in body-fat and even affect babies through the placenta. Dioxins also settle on crops and in waterways where they eventually end up in food, accumulate in our bodies and are passed on to our children.

Open burning of plastics can increase the risk of heart disease; aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma, damage the nervous system, kidney and liver, and destroy the reproductive and development system. It can also affect the eyes and mucous membranes. Research also indicates that long term exposure can affect the central nervous system causing headaches, fatigue, weakness and depression. The resulting ash from burnt plastic is also toxic and can easily get into the ground and underground water. Pollutants transported into the air by burning of plastics can travel long or short distances to pollute land and water bodies. The longer plastic burning continues, the more poison is accumulated in the body. Because plastic is created by combining petroleum or natural gas with oxygen and chlorine, which requires the burning of large amounts of oil, a recycling approach could reduce oil consumption and save about 25 percent of our landfill space. Let us learn to separate our plastic waste from other waste materials and return plastics to producers for recycling. Let us prefer paper rather than plastics. It is our duty to protect the environment and ensure a sustainable development. Let us consider a recycling approach to conserve our natural resources and reduce pollution drastically; it begins with you.

BY: ADELINA ARHIN, ASSISTANT PROGRAMME OFFICER - ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, HEAD OFFICE, ACCRA.

3 comments:

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