Reflecting upon our weeklong excursion around Accra and Cape Coast, something that stuck out to me that I did not expect was the amount of trash in a beach in Accra. After hearing plenty of popular reviews, we had decided to spend our day off during the excursion relaxing at a popular spot called Labadi Beach. The beach is lined with plenty of restaurants for tourists and locals alike, filling the sand with brightly colored umbrellas and tables to eat by the beach. I was surprised when I looked out to the ocean to take in the view and realized it was full of trash. Large waves could be seen in the distance, bringing the excessive amounts of garbage to the shore. We saw everything from large plastic bags to couch cushions to medical grade needles. As I sat on the beach I began to think about the effects of the plastic and trash not only on the wildlife in the ocean but also on the people that were swimming in the water amongst the trash.
According to the World Health Organization, over 28,000 people die each year in Ghana due to air pollution. Much of this pollution comes from how trash is managed. There are few waste collection companies and they are often times too expensive for most people to use, so many people get rid of their trash by making piles on the sides of the road and burning them, releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. These trash piles are often burned in residential areas, so the fumes are in close contact with the residents of the neighborhood.
During my time in Ghana, I have realized that people here use large amounts of plastic, including our group. Most people often buy water bottles on the street which come with an added plastic wrapping around the cap which adds to the amount of waste caused by drinking water. A more environmentally friendly option is sachets which contain plastic that is more biodegradable, but it still creates large amounts of waste. Our group alone often times goes through 3-4 cases of water in a few days. I have also noticed that street vendors use a lot of plastic as most foods are wrapped in plastic to be sold in a hygienic matter but also given within another plastic bag for the customer to carry. I have noticed that in Kumasi, many of these small plastic bags often end up on the ground or in gutters.
Many foods in Ghana are also dependent upon the use of plastics such as Banku which consists of a corn meal wrapped in plastic and other popular meals use rice balls which are also wrapped in plastic. A lot of this waste ends up in the ocean or on the sand in coastal communities and looking at the trash, it seems like much of the waste comes from plastic water bottles. After visiting the beach in Accra, we stayed at a beach side resort near Cape Coast. It was a private beach area for resort guests, and it was free of pollution since it was not open to the general public. The dichotomy between the two beaches made me think of where resources are placed and how it can often times value tourist areas while leaving spaces for locals underdeveloped and unclean.
I think much of the plastic pollution comes from lack of awareness on the consequences of pollution and lack of financial resources to switch to more sustainable practices such as reusable water bottles. However, there are people fighting back against this such as through the popular practice of glass bead making which is made out of old glass bottles and increased awareness such as through street art.
For further reading on pollution throughout Ghana: