July 18, 2010

The Rubbish Monster

I read an excellent article a while back. It’s about the plastic bag problem in Africa.

Plastic bags are to the Ghana landscape what fallen leaves are to Autumn landscapes in cooler parts of the world. Unfortunately, this is not a seasonal phenomenon; it’s a 365 day a year phenomenon.

Plastic bags are simply everywhere, fluttering from high tension wires, scattered across fields and between rows of maize. They are piled high in drains and burning in piles by roadsides everywhere, emitting noxious gases in close urban quarters.

In fact, it was the “burning rubbish” smell that I was yearning for when I returned to Ghana in 2007. That’s what I couldn’t wait to smell when I alighted from the belly of the airplane in Accra. That’s the smell of Ghana.

The writer, Emily Bowers, wrote:

Traveling across West Africa, it's easy to tell when you're coming to a town or city: the spindly brown trees become decorated with plastic bags like Christmas tree tinsel. Caught in shrubs and on fences, the bags clog sewers and water sources. They are ubiquitous; simple plastic bags are handed out with practically every purchase at a market stall or container shop.

I have been told that plastic bags only became common in Ghana around 1995 or 1996. It’s not as if there is a long history with the bag. There is a long history with the cloth, the bowl or the basket however, traditional means of carrying goods in Ghana.

But the plastic bag thing caught on like the flu. And it seems like it’s going to be just as difficult to shake. Here, the bag is called a “rubber” and it’s almost always black. And then there’s the pure water bags. Everywhere.

Statistics released by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and other waste management bodies indicate some 270 tonnes of plastic waste is generated each day in Accra alone. “Pure water” sachets represent 85% of this waste. 40,000 sachets are discarded daily in Accra and take 20 years to degrade partially; they will never fully disintegrate. While the Ugandan Government banned plastic bags in 2007, in Ghana pure water sales provide considerable employment and it is argued “the economic implications of a ban would just be too significant.”


Meanwhile, check out one business doing a brilliant job at combating this problem: Trashy Bags in Accra. You can visit their showroom and buy brilliant products made exclusively from recycled plastic rubbish. The directions are on their web site.

Trashy Bag image by Trashy Bags.I read an excellent article a while back. It’s about the plastic bag problem in Africa.

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