Environmental IssuesPollutionRecycling

UNDERVALUED: How plastic waste collectors in Ghana risk their lives to save our ecosystem

By. Sedinam Holornu

Accra, Jan.25, – Tema Newtown is one of the Ga speaking communities in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, situated closer to to the sea where inhabitants, both men, women and children depend on the ocean for livelihood.
One of the major challenges confronting this community is poor sanitation. Residents liter the roads and other open places with all manner of wastes including plastics. These waste products get choked in the sea, especially when it rains. This affects their livelihoods as fishermen.

As a result, Some active men and women around the vicinity have taken upon themselves to collect these plastic waste especially from the water bodies. Although this has become some sort of job for them it has helped to prevent irreparable damage of our water bodies, our environment and the future of the country. These saints are however undervalued or underappreciated by their own people.

In an interview with Ghanaenvironment.com, Mohammed ldrissu a plastic waste collector and a resident of Tema Newtown said that, during rainy season, plastic bottles and other solid waste materials from all over the city are carried into the ocean. You always see bottles floating on the surface of the sea. His job is to pick them, gather the neat ones and sell them to get his daily bread. Sometimes when the bottles are far from his reach, he uses a stick to pull them closer. He said this as he recounted his daily experiences on the job.

Plastic waste collectors work under terrible conditions. They risk their lives by diving into the heavily polluted ocean  just to retrieve plastic bottles.

“My work is very difficult but I do not have a choice. If l am not careful I can get drowned by the sea”.
These bottles are then sold to recycling companies which are then taken through recycling processes to bring forth new products. However collectors are given peanuts as payment for their hard work.

“I will pick the bottles with my hand, pack them into a mosquito net and sell them. For each mosquito net I sell, they give me GHC 30  [equivalent to $5]” – Mohammed said
In addition to their small wages, plastic waste collectors are constantly stigmatized and undervalued. They are the frontline workers fighting ocean and environmental pollution but are not recognized for the important role they play.

“Some people do not even come close to us just because of the work we do and think they are better than us simply because we collect plastics from the dirty water” a partner of Mohammed said.

Researchers have estimated that about 8 million metric tonnes of plastics end up in the worlds ocean every year and the World Economic Forum equates this to emptying the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute and by 2050, this is estimated to increase to four garbage trucks per minute.

The work of the plastic waste collectors like Mohammed Idrissu provides an important solution to plastic pollution and presents a lucrative employment venture. Their efforts must be recognized, encouraged and celebrated.

Sedinam Holornu

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