From what I’ve seen in the month that I’ve been here, Ghana has a garbage problem. More specifically, a plastic problem.
Animals eat it, children play in it and it clogs the waterways that run through the cities. While watching the waves roll into shore along a beach in Accra, the debris in the water came into focus. My friend Douglas explained to me that, when it rains (as it had the day before), all of the garbage that people throw into the sewers is emptied into the sea.
Looking down at the beach, I realized that the ocean was literally spitting everything back onto land. The Gulf of Guinea is saying, ‘No, thanks’ (maybe not as nicely). There’s no way for the ocean to regurgitate all of the junk, though. And it’s not just a problem in Ghana: all of our oceans are increasingly filled with plastic and garbage.
It’s not just the water, either.
For the most part, I’ve visually adjusted to the litter in the streets. But when I noticed the hollowed out portion of a tree lining the sidewalk had become an overflowing garbage can I was surprised.
A large contributor to this problem is that the ease of using plastic bags and water bottles has taken over here (as it has in the rest of the world). Unfortunately, recycling has not.
At least, not on a large scale. Efforts by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Global Mamas, Trashy Bags and the Baobob Children Foundation to repurpose the plastics lying around Ghana are helping. Purses, wallets, rain coats and other accessories have been made out of the various plastic containers.
But I think the mindset of the larger population also needs to shift before sanitation improves.
In Tamale, a city in the north, I noticed that the streets aren’t as cluttered. I mentioned it to someone and he explained that it had to do with poverty and people reusing everything for monetary purposes. While that could be the case, I’ve seen a high level of poverty in Accra, too. And garbage. Why haven’t they followed suit?
One form of recycling that I’ve seen in Accra is both clever and interesting to look at: broken glass as a safety measure. Slather some cement on top of the wall surrounding your house, strategically place some shards of broken glass and ta dah! Your very own home security system.
Yes, I’ve seen garbage in other countries. I’ve never seen so much in one area, though. And what I find even more disheartening is that it’s difficult to pinpoint a solution. Charles Moore, an oceanographer, discussed the effects of our ‘throwaway society’ on the environment at a TED talk in 2009.