In my last post I wrote about the critical role that water plays in village life. Of course water is just as important in urban areas, however access to clean drinking water is not as straightforward as drilling a borehole. Many african cities simply do not have sufficient infrastructure to provide clean water. (I don't mean to single out just african cities, Flint Michigan comes to mind as a poignant example of how pervasive the problem is).
One solution is bottled water. But along with bottled water comes plastic. The same overburdened infrastructures are in no position to effectively manage the surfeit of plastic garbage. When I traveled in Ghana I saw plastic waste everywhere: in the millet fields, caught in the acacia trees, blowing through the marketplace (where single use plastic bags are rampant), choking the drainage ditches, and eventually making their way to the canal that runs through central Accra and drains into the ocean.
In addition to single use plastic bags, plastic water "sachets" are a major culprit. These are plastic bags that hold about half a liter of drinking water. They sell for pennies on every street corner and they are transported more efficiently than bottles. You simply bite off the corner of the bag and drink the water. Then you are left holding an empty plastic bag with nowhere to recycle it. So guess where it goes.
To me this is a perfect metaphor for how technological innovations often come wrapped in their own toxic dilemma. I believe every human has a right to clean water. I understand that in many instances the best way to provide this water is to transport it in plastic. And yet walking through Accra or Kumasi where litter is ubiquitous and the air smells of burning plastic, one has to wonder if our human thirst has been quenched, or simply exploited.