Would you eat plastics for dinner?

As a record-breaking sailor, Dame Ellen MacArthur has seen more of the world’s oceans than almost anyone else. She warns that there will be more waste plastic in the sea than fish by 2050, unless the industry cleans up its act.

According to a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, new plastics will consume 20% of all oil production within 35 years, up from an estimated 5% today.

I was alarmed when I read this report. But then again, this report is not surprising because the rate at which we are polluting our environment with plastics, especially the ocean is something to be concerned about.

Countries that contribute largely to the plastic pollution of the earth’s ocean include: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. These countries combined dump about 8 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans every year.

Photo Credit: Eco Watch

This issue is not far-fetched from our motherland Ghana. There is the erroneous belief that, ‘Oh, the sea will take it away’.

In Ghana, everything is dumped in the ocean; human excreta from homes, waste from industries, waste from drainage systems of communities, open defecation with the belief that the sea will wash it away, amongst many other sources of poisonous waste.

Photo Credit: Seth B News

In recent times, some fisher-folks have hanged their nets because of low yields after days of ploughing the ocean for fish. At times when there is a bountiful catch, the fishermen spend hours sorting out the fish from the plastic rubble. The plastic products range from pure water sachets, plastic bottles and other unidentified pieces

Photo Credit: Marikeen Images

What human habits cause plastic pollution of our ocean?

Littering: The menace of indiscriminate littering is evident everywhere in the capital city. In places where bins are available, people don’t make use of them. Some end up dumping their waste right beside the bins and others on the bin. There is the need for collective behavioural change to revert this trend. Also, law enforcement agencies need to be up and working to ensure the right things are done always!

Lack of recycling: If countries, industries and the world populate would take responsibility for their waste by recycling, waste will be turned into sources of income for their citizens.

Overwhelming tonnes of waste from urban centres: Urban centres like Accra, Takoradi and Kumasi with high populations produce large amounts of waste; about 17% of which is plastic adding up to the all ready filled up landfill sites in the various regions.

Capacity of existing waste management companies in handling waste: How many efficient waste management companies do we have in Ghana? The few existing ones are not enough to fully handle the tonnes of waste produced from the urban centres.

How  do fishes replenish to ensure sustenance?

If the aquatic ecosystem is healthy, there is no much need for replenishing.

There is a natural buffer which helps species population to sustain themselves. Unless there are artificial disasters such as oil spill, massive offshore pollution or other natural pollutions such algal bloom, fish’s distribution and abundance are usually sustained through their usual life process and adaptation (in the situation of increasing temperature).

How does plastic affect the fish in the sea?

Some aquatic organisms (including fish), especially those residing within the shallow part of the ocean (neritic zone), are found to ingest plastics that has been discarded into the ocean.

Additionally, plastic traps fishes in the ocean and in some circumstances cause death  of some sessile (fishes that don’t possess a means of self-locomotion and are normally immobile) species through suffocation.

Plastic found in Rainbow Runner fish guts. Photo Source: Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Since plastics are non-degradable, they stay thousands of years in the ocean, this means one plastic bag could kill thousands of fishes before the pastic is removed or destroyed. So if you have over 100 plastic bags, then you can imagine the extent of the damage.

What risk does this create for humans?

Humans feed mostly on pelagic fish (fish that live in the open-ocean or lake waters). This means that we need these fish to grow and replenish naturally without any negative influence which can reduce their population.

However, if plastic pollution gets excessive, then our fishermen will continue to record low or negligible yields.

For a country like Ghana, where the average individual consumes over 23kg of fish annually, such an experience could result in an increase in fish prices which would adversely affect low income individuals and have an adverse effect on Ghana’s economy.

Photo Credit: Yelp

Fish is also the leading source of protein for Ghanaians, extreme shortages would raise health implications and malnutrition.

What is the way forward?

  1. Attitudinal change towards waste disposal in Ghana. The earth’s resources are not infinite. No waste evaporates into space. Everything stays on earth. The earlier we change our attitude towards the handling of plastic waste, the better for our environment.
  2. Massive Cleanup: A massive cleanup to clear all the plastic waste in our ocean.
  3. Education: Ghana has a lot of fishing communities – with fishing as the main occupation for the inhabitants. There should be a continuous education programme offered by the government, community based organization, non-profit organizations as well as cooperate organizations to build the capacity of coastal dwellers on the effects of indiscriminate and inappropriate waste disposal.
  4. Living Green: Inhabitants must adopt a greener lifestyle and abstaining from excessive usage of plastics and light polythene bags. Under severe plastic pollution circumstance, an alternative packaging could be provided for town folks. For instance, On September 22nd, Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) held an anti-plastic campaign in Duakro within the Cape Coast Metropolitan Assembly. The community is known for Gari production and as a result, they use a lot of plastics for packaging which also results in lots of plastic disposal at the shores. GAYO, educated the community members and gari producers about the ecological effects of their current lifestyle and also provided each household with a lasting sac bag for collecting/packaging food items.
  5. Government should consider implementing a total ban on plastics. Even though government has said it will ban plastics in Ghana, no concrete action has been taken to that effect.

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