Georgia Southern University Center for Sustainability Graduate Assistant Caitlyn Grunert raised awareness about air quality and plastic pollution during her “Reflections From Ghana: A Global Sustainability Presentation” presentation in the Russell Union on Feb. 26. 

“We’re seeing more and more plastic in our oceans,” said Grunert. “Who’s to say that this plastic didn’t originate from the United States or another industrialized country that is discarding their waste in the ocean? We all know once something is in the water, it’s eventually going to wash up somewhere if it is not consumed by marine life.”

Grunert went on to explain that her group of travelers, a total of sixteen people, used a large amount of plastic bottles because they did not have access to tap water from a faucet. She also explained that one person possibly drank fifteen bottles of water on the trip. Every two weeks at the visiting houses, a pair of students received two 24 packs of water. In total, the group used about 768 plastic bottles, and because there is no recycling center in Ghana, the bottles likely went to a landfill, were burned or left somewhere to decompose.

“When we went to Tamale, there was no running water,” said Grunert. “So, we had to use our bottles to bathe, brush our teeth and wash our face. If you get anything from this, it’s to use a reusable water bottle.”

Grunert moved on to talking about Kumasi, another city in Ghana, and their poor air quality from tire burning. On the sides of the road, there were shops where women were doing each other’s hair and children were playing–all of them were breathing in the black smoke from a nearby dumpster set ablaze to rid it of the trash it contained. 

“It really didn’t resonate with me until I actually saw it in person,” said Grunert.

Sandra Ofosuhemaa, an attendant, Ghana-born GS student and public health researcher who went on the trip, gave more input on the poor air quality by briefly speaking about a man who was killed and her disturbing surprise after doctors opened up his chest cavity.

“I shadowed at the pathology,” explained Ofosuhemaa. “He was fairly young, probably about 27 or so. When they opened him up, I realised that his lungs were black and I thought in America, black lungs usually equal smoking or something like that. So I asked the doctor if he was a smoker, and he said no. These were the lungs of a typical adult Ghanian.” 

Ofosuhemaa also said that she saw a child around 11 die from tuberculosis, a treatable ailment in the US, because the air was so hard to breathe.

Michela Hizine, a graduate student with a masters in public health and environmental sciences, went on the trip to conduct research about the water quality. Her team spent almost eight hours each day analyzing the microbial quality of various sachet water samples. 

“Ghana has water standards, but they don’t always abide by them,” said Hizine. “It’s not their top priority always.”

Ofosuhemaa and Hizine agreed that mindsets play a critical role in resource management. 

Grunert finished up her lecture by talking about the energy, transportation, and future of sustainability in Ghana.

“Sustainability in the future for Ghana is high,” said Grunert. “The UN development program’s national youth authority gave a grant out to 16 people and the amount was $80,000 to support young demands to develop ideas to reach the sustainable development goals.”

 The event concluded with a short Q&A session before the audience of a dozen students left the theater.

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