• Cordie Aziz

Ghana, first victim of plastic pollution

''The waste contractors are collecting the waste but they also have to collect the revenue, as well.''

Today, certain areas of Accra are virtually inaccessible. The beaches are destroyed. Tourism is dead. The poorest neighbourhoods are sinking under heaps of trash, as if the population had simply learned to live with it. “It’s always been like this and old habits die hard: no one cares about plastic here,” confirms Cordie Aziz, President and Founder of the NGO Environment360. “People don’t even notice it anymore. It’s become normal. Yet, 3,000 tonnes of waste are produced daily. 14% of this waste is plastic. And only 2% is recycled. This is an extremely low amount, especially compared to surrounding countries. Recycling has never been the priority of the poorest countries. The inhabitants have other things to think about. But, on top of that, there are many, many tribes here, which come before a sense of nationalism. In these conditions, it is extremely difficult to have an effect on people’s behaviour with public policies.”

In addition to the visual pollution, the effects are disastrous on the cattle. Not to mention diseases, such as cholera and malaria, or the stagnant waste-filled water that attracts mosquitoes to the centre of populated areas. “And there’s also self-esteem,” points out Cordie Aziz. “I’m positive that there’s a cognitive effect, something hidden: what do I think of myself when I realize that in another neighbourhood that is not as poor as mine, it’s much cleaner and better kept than in my home? All of these reasons led me to create Environment360.” This American of Sierra Leone origin came to Ghana seven years ago from Washington. One day, at the crowded Labadi Beach, the only beach in Accra where people can venture into the water, she saw a young child emerge from the ocean with a black plastic bag stuck to his body. “Imagine my reaction… I went up to the boy and showed him pictures of beaches all around the world on my phone. I wanted him to understand that filth was not the norm and that we can live differently. The light-bulb went on in my head and I decided to found the NGO to change the mentality and carry out different initiatives.”

One of Cordie Aziz’s goals is to be accepted as a legitimate voice and a credible spokesperson in the eyes of the authorities, who are unable to overcome the issue due to a lack of “coordination”between the services. “You can’t improve the plastic problem if you don’t address the stakes of waste treatment,” emphasizes Aziz. “But here, there’s a real problem that makes the situation so tricky in Ghana: the waste collection companies are also in charge of collecting taxes. It’s complicated for them to do both, especially considering that if they don’t manage to collect the taxes, then they won’t have enough money to collect the waste. It’s a vicious circle and we can’t break out of it. In these conditions, it’s crucial for the civil society and other organisations to take up the slack and invent new ways of dealing with plastic. Especially when you know that so much can be done with it!”

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