Opinion: Building Ghana’s PET Plastic Collection Stock; the Way Forward
There is a sharp rise in the collection and recycling of PET plastic in the last 5 years in Ghana, but contrary the price value of PET plastic remains the lowest in Ghana, and quite frankly the PET plastic market globally is at its lowest.
In Ghana, over 82% of PET bottles hold water and beverages, while the remaining are containers for sanitary products and containers for some fast-moving consumer goods like sugar, peanut butter just to mention a few, these containers are not just locally packaged but are mostly imported and sold locally.
The question isn't to ask if Ghana produces enough PET bottles in the first place, because it does and that number keeps growing, and is expected to grow furthermore as we see new companies and PET bottlers entering into the Ghanaian water and beverage space.
But the fundamental question is, what mechanism can Ghana apply to ensure that these plastics are well recovered or in other words collected and recycled in order to create an effective circular economy model?
To further throw more light on the subject, according to the Ghana Plastic Manufacturers Association, the PET bottle production stands at 68,000 metric tons per year for locally produced PET plastics alone.
Together with other forms of PET bottles imported brings it to a total of about 73,000 metric tons and this number is expected to rise annually. To further put this in perspective means that about 2kg (100 pieces of drinking bottles) of PET is disposed off every second in Ghana.
Furthermore, there was a spike in the sale of PET drinking water bottles in Ghana in 2019 until a downturn in PET bottle water sales in Ghana from March 2020 due to government-imposed lockdown regulations on events and public gathering.
But since September 2020 with easy restrictions coupled with gradual return to normalcy with low rise of new COVID19 infection and lower fatalities, the sales of PET bottles is gradually picking up, with new competition in the market meant prices of PET bottled water are becoming way cheaper as low as Ghc1 per bottle ($0.17) and much cheaper in bulk purchase. In simple terms, more PET bottles are expected to be disposed off from 2021.
Bearing in mind that the plastic production rate in Ghana keeps rising, it's important that the right infrastructure is in place to ensure these plastics are recovered, and well recycled through an effective circular economy model.
The best form of making these possible is to:
- Building deposit system: To start with, there is a need for community members and ordinary Ghanaians to have an idea of a place they can take their segregated plastic waste to. When we [Ghanaians] only focus on educational campaigns, people segregate and don't know where to drop off their segregated plastics, that becomes discouraging. A deposit center however encourages community members to make extra effort by doing personal drop off at centers; where they will also get a chance to learn more about recycling. Few companies like Coliba and Environment 360 have been able to set up buy back centers in Accra, and its environs where a company like pure home is setting up buy back centers in the Northern region of Ghana.
- Provide an incentive model: The next big strategy is to set a good incentive model for plastic waste. In this area, PET plastic remains the low valued plastic at the moment. With proper EPR system support, a better incentive for a take-back system can be in place. A good incentive would prevent cherry-picking of waste in preference for those with better value and leaving the rest. Incentive will also ensure segregation is done easily because there is a reward.
- Need for a recycling union: it's about time small, medium, and large plastic recyclers come together to form a union. The creation of a recycling union will ensure price control and better price offer for members as well as consolidate the quantity of plastic recycled. With a union, it's easier to gather data, provide capacity building for recyclers and as well as creating a strong front for future lobbying practices for recycling initiatives.
- Fully recycle PET plastic locally: If PET plastic is collected and recycled locally and not exported, it would create better value for the collection of PET as waste pickers and collectors will have better price offers than that currently on the table. Better price offer is a better incentive to collect more and this will strengthen the PET plastic collection stock in Ghana.
- Education: Education is the last bucket list because the infrastructure has to exist to compliment recovery and recycling efforts. That way we don’t just educate but give information to those we educate on where and how they can start recycling their plastic waste, and when they know there is an incentive tied to it, it encourages segregating and recycling.
- Creation of a supply and demand platform. The current PET market in Ghana is very informal and not regulated. Prices of supply and demand remain unstable from one recycler to another and this is because there is not yet a strong formalized association/union to regulate this. The best way for drive collection and formalization is the creation of a platform that would serve as a directory for supply and demand. Scrapmonster.com for example is a platform created in the early 2000’s that allows European recyclers and buyers to engage and trade. Today it's become the “Amazon for waste” in Europe. Ghana’s plastic space is on the rise hence the need for such a platform that can easily connect suppliers to buyers and also give data on collection rate and players in the sector
- Creation of an Extended Producers Responsibility Scheme. With the increasing growth and rise in plastic waste in Ghana, the EPR approach places responsibility on producers, be it financial or physical for the disposal or treatment of plastic waste. When we assign such responsibility to producers, this will in principle provide incentives to prevent waste at source, promote the design of environmentally friendly products and support recycling efforts in Ghana. It's about time Ghana has its own EPR policy.
In summary, there is just enough plastic waste in Ghana’s waste landfills, streets, drainage systems but a good recovery system needs to happen coupled with education on the value of plastics but also followed by policy.
Policy change which could be best driven by a recycling association that has a voice. Should the above points be implemented efficiently, we would see a stable stock of plastic for a ready market.
The article writer, Prince Agbata is an expert in the plastic recovery, recycling and circular economy space with focus on the West African market.