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Plastic bags and the prosperity index

Plastic shopping bags are a symbol of prosperity. Well, at least in Ghana they are. According to an article in the June 22 issue of the Wall Street Journal ("Garbage Trashes Ghana's Economic Glory" by Drew Hinshaw), plastic shopping bags are "emblematic of [that] nation's prosperity." Ghana is home to 26 million citizens and, at one time, was among Africa's greatest success stories with the fastest growing economy in 2011 and "an abundance of plastic shopping bags serving as a tangible symbol of a rising consumer class."

Plastic shopping bags are a symbol of prosperity. Well, at least in Ghana they are. According to an article in the June 22 issue of the Wall Street Journal ("Garbage Trashes Ghana's Economic Glory" by Drew Hinshaw), plastic shopping bags are "emblematic of [that] nation's prosperity." Ghana is home to 26 million citizens and, at one time, was among Africa's greatest success stories with the fastest growing economy in 2011 and "an abundance of plastic shopping bags serving as a tangible symbol of a rising consumer class."

Today, however, plastic shopping bags are also contributing to the trashing of the infrastructure of Accra, the capital. The Wall Street Journal reported that Ghana's consumer-driven economic growth has had a negative impact on its "meager infrastructure." In addition to electrical problems caused by too many appliances, the "country also faces a profusion of tossed-out plastic bags," said the Journal, which, along with other trash, are plugging the city's water main during floods.

Image courtesy antpkr/freedigitalphotos.net.
"Plastics are choking the drains. . . . It's mind-boggling—the plastic bottles, pieces of timber, firewood, old mattresses, old furniture and pieces of old cars," Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama told the Journal's reporter. To attack the problem of trash, Mr. Mahama is doing what government leaders of cities in the United States have done: He is considering "a crackdown on plastic bags."

Ghana isn't the only country in Africa on the bag-ban band wagon. The Journal noted that Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda all banned plastic bags. South Africa and Botswana "heavily tax" the plastic shopping bags.

The article points out that the "plastic-bag makers feel they are being scapegoated" for the city's inability to collect all of the plastic bottles, bags and EPS carry-out boxes and cups that wash down the waterways and pile up along the banks and clog the system. One plastic-bag manufacturer, Executive Director of Mohinani Group, Ashok Mohinani, told the Journal reporter that tending to the city's need for better and more trash collection is not a priority until there is a flood. Then, "they look at you, the manufacturer."

It would seem that plastic gets a bad rap no matter where in the world it's used. That it's a sign of prosperity—of a thriving consumer economy—would appear to be an anomaly. A better sign of prosperity would be citizens of a country caring for their environment, or city officials—especially those in a capital city like Accra—showing off economic success by buying more garbage trucks and picking up trash more often.

But, then, as we have learned in the United States, it's easier to blame plastics for the problem than it is to educate people about solutions. I'm thinking a large incinerator plant that would burn all the trash—including high-value plastic trash—and create energy would solve two problems at once!

TAGS: Packaging
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