The Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), has begun the implementation of a plastic waste management programme using nuclear technology to tackle the country’s huge plastic waste menace.
Dubbed, “NUTEC Plastics,” the Nuclear Technology for Plastic Pollution Control programme is an initiative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched in 2021 to assist governments of its Member States to integrate nuclear to combat plastic pollution.
Professor Samuel Boakye Dampare, the Director-General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, at a stakeholder engagement workshop in Accra said the programme was currently being implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI).
It seeks to deal with plastic pollution through recycling using ionising radiation technology to achieve a reduction in the economic cost of managing waste, and also enhance quality assurance to help close the gap faced by industries in the production of high-quality recycled materials within the circular economy framework.
The Director-General said although GAEC had an existing technology through which gamma- rays, (a nuclear technology), were used to irradiate agricultural produce, medical and other industrial products to preserve and prolong shelve life, expanding the knowledge to cover plastic waste management was a virgin area that the Commission was ready to explore.
He said the Commission had submitted a proposal to MESTI and the Minister of Food and Agriculture for support to establish similar gamma and electron beam radiation technologies in some key regions of the country, and called for financial assistance from the private sector through public-private partnerships.
He acknoacknowledged the role of IAEA in the successful implementation of the programme, of which one of its experts, Dr. Chantara Thevy Ratnam, was on a mission to the country to share her expertise on the use of radiation technology in polymer recycling, and to also engage with high level officials and stakeholders in the plastic space.
Dr Ratnam, the IAEA Expert on the NUTEC Plastics, commended Ghana for remaining resolute in the implementation of the programme.
She said the IAEA, through its efforts, sought to promote the integration of radiation technologies into global efforts to tackle plastic pollution, enhance recycling, and also create opportunity for harnessing the huge socio-economic benefits of the technology.
She shared some knowledge on radiation processing for polymer modification, saying it ensured uniquely high technology products, and pledged the sustained commitment and support of the IAEA in the area of technical assistance to Ghana’s programme.
Dr Fidelis Ocloo, the Deputy Director of the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI), in charge of the NUTEC Plastics Programme, gave some statistics projecting that without any interventions by 2025, the oceans would contain one ton of plastics for every three tons of fish, and there may be more plastics in the ocean than fish by 2050.
“It is estimated that 52,000 tons of raw plastics are produced yearly in Ghana and this figure is projected to significantly increase with the downstream development of the fairly new petrochemical sector.”
“However, more than one million tons of plastic waste are generated annually, which suggest that domestic production accounts for just five per cent of plastics in the country,” he said.
He said with an established National Plastic Action Partnership and a National Plastics Management Policy, the stage was set for the creation of an entirely new industry for redesigning, recovering and recycling plastics, preventing pollution of the environment and communities, and creating many new jobs in the green economy.
The quest to protect Ghana’s environmental resources from the danger of plastic pollution, and to make good use of its vast untapped natural resources to improve the people’s socioeconomic situations had become more critical, he said.