Lining the streets and clogging the gutters, floating in the ocean and littering the beach, filling the bellies of goats and chickens, and billowing through the air in its semi-regular burning is trash. From Kumasi to Accra to Cape Coast, the scattered solid waste is ever present.
Peering out to the first port in Jamestown and seeing massive piles of plastic trash on the beach, I asked our tour guide where all the trash was coming from. Were other countries responsible for creating the waste and had the ocean carried it all the way to Ghana? Or was Ghana itself creating the waste and dumping it in the ocean or letting the wind or high tide take it from a pile on the beach to the water? He replied “oh no, it comes from Ghana.”
Isaac Monney from the Department of Environmental Health and Sanitation at the University of Education Winneba writes at length about Ghana’s waste management problems. In 2014, he cited that just the cities of Accra and Kumasi alone produce over 4,000 tons of solid waste daily, without any streamlined efforts to manage that waste. He attributes the absence of proper and effective waste management to poverty and a resulting non-prioritization of waste management, lack of action on the National Environmental Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan, non-regulation and (expensive) privatization of waste management companies, and a gap between research and policy development. His listed solutions of the problem include simple actions, such as placing more waste receptacles around market centers and having communal stalls where residents can bring their sorted waste in exchange for cash, as well as much larger undertakings, like intense public educational programming and eradication of poverty (Monney, 2014). Not only would the expansion of viable waste management efforts improve conditions of public health and the environment, but it could also create a significant number of jobs for a population with an incredibly high unemployment rate.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there has been any major reduction in un- and mis-managed waste since Monney wrote his article in 2014. In April of 2019, the US Embassy in Ghana stated that “less than 2% of 3,000 tons of plastic waste generated every day are recycled” and “more than 250,000 tons, or 23%, of all plastic waste generated a year in Ghana are expected to flow into the Atlantic Ocean” (GhanaWeb). However, they believe that “about 82% of Ghana’s plastics waste could be recovered and recycled with existing technologies into value-added products valued at GHC2 billion per year,” (GhanaWeb).
While this shift may not happen immediately, it does not mean there is no hope at all for the future of the environment and public health. I have observed some smaller-scale (yet still beneficial) waste management efforts like consumer good production from recycled materials. For example, the Cedi Bead Industry in Odumase makes thousands and thousands of beautiful traditional beads from recycled glass bottles, and at a gift shop in the Kakum Rainforest I found a purse made from recycled water sachets. Our tour guide in Jamestown also pointed us to a beautiful mural about ocean pollution and recycling promotion painted at the town’s annual art-activism festival. While these efforts to manage Ghana’s waste management problem may not be centralized or widespread, they are still efforts nonetheless.
Isaac Monney: Ghana’s Solid Waste Management Problems: The Contributing Factors and the Way Forward. 2014. https://www.modernghana.com/news/544185/ghanas-solid-waste-management-problems-the-contributing-fa.html
GhanaWeb: There’ll be More Plastic than Fish in the Ocean by 2050–US Embassy Warns. 2019. https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/There-ll-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-ocean-by-2050-US-Embassy-warns-740560