An increasing number of Ghanaians are reverting to the traditional method of food packaging and consumption using the large Katemfe leaves (locally referred to as ‘Ahaban’).
According to Kwame Annane-Crane, a Development Consultant and Environmental Campaigner, the shift in attitudes is in response to the challenges the country faces with sanitation and waste management.
Over the last decade, statistics show that the amount of waste (especially plastic waste) generated by the average person has risen by more than 400%!
Single-use plastic bags, bottles and packaging have littered major cities like Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi because the services available have the capacity to recycle less than 10% of the waste generated.
This leaves a huge chunk of the over 600 tonnes of plastic waste created daily in Accra alone, floating around on our streets, drains and water bodies.
In an interview, Mr Anane-Crane noted that an ongoing community-led campaign, which started in 2015 to help reduce waste generation has focused on simple messages.
One of the messages is for food vendors and customers to revert to the healthier option of using the large Katemfe leaves to package food instead of plastic packs and single-use bags.
The change hasn’t been particularly as tough as previously feared because most people already have the experience of packaging food and eating from these special leaves which are thought to have associated health benefits.
The Katemfe leaves have properties that provide subtle but highly desirable medicinal value towards a reduction of fats and cholesterol in the blood. The leaves also enhance the flavour of food.
With the increase in the number of people now using the Katemfe leaves, support and training are given to individuals and food vendors as part of the campaign on how to properly clean the leaves to make them safe for food packaging.
A popular method currently being promoted is for users to wash the leaves first in a salt solution. Some also have the option of using hot water and vinegar. It is highly recommended that the leaves are then dry cleaned and safely stored in sealed containers.
The gradual shift from the use of plastics for food packaging and consumption goes beyond waste reduction, many people are attesting to improvements in their health.
In spite of the short-term convenience, plastic bags and packaging do not always react well when in contact with hot foods.
Research has in most cases found that toxic elements that can commonly cause cancer are released from the plastics to our food.
Apart from the “Back to Ahaban (back to leaves)” initiative, the community sanitation and waste management campaign is also encouraging consumers to move away from single-use plastic straws, as these end up being eaten by marine life with devastating effects!
Another successful environmental cultural change has been the reduction in the number of plastic carrier bags being requested by or offered to consumers in the major retail outlets.
Notwithstanding, Mr Anane-Crane believes there should be a close partnership with the informal retail sector, especially street vendors whose activities are said to generate more than half of the nation’s plastic waste.