Ghana tackles urban waste management
October 11, 2022
“There is an opportunity in every bad situation. We are seeing plastic as a problem, but we can turn this into a good resource to solve other problems.”
Nelson Boateng is a Ghanaian computer engineer and entrepreneur who is dedicating his life to solving one of his country’s biggest challenges, plastic pollution, by building houses of plastic waste.
Like most countries, Ghana recycles only a tiny percentage of its single use plastics. Ghanaians at all levels of society are working on ways to turn this situation around.
The country’s experience with solving the challenge of waste management and rapid urban growth can provide key lessons for developing countries. Many are confronted with unsustainable waste generation and urban population growth which stretches the capacity of cities to provide quality services to all their inhabitants.
More than half of the world’s people, about 4.4 billion, live in cities and towns. This number is expected to increase significantly to about 6 billion by 2045. By 2050, it is expected that nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in cities. In Ghana, the urban population has grown from 50.9 percent in 2010 to 56.7 percent in 2021. This will continue to rise as rural dwellers continue to move in search of jobs and livelihoods often exacerbated by climate and environmental pressures.
The scale and speed of urbanization is challenging the capability of local authorities to create a well-planned environment and related waste management. With rapid global population growth and urbanization, annual waste generation is expected to increase by 73 percent from 2020 levels to 3.88 billion tonnes in 2050. In Ghana, about 12,710 tonnes of solid waste is generated every day, with only 10 percent collected and disposed of properly. Plastic waste constitutes a large proportion of urban waste.
In order to address the health and environmental effects in Ghana, and across Africa, there is a need for effective and integrated solid waste management systems that respond to the complex demands of cities.
Responsive policy and regulatory infrastructure
Ghana has begun policy, institutional and regulatory frameworks for sound management of solid waste. It has developed a solid waste management strategy with the an aim of setting the country “on a path towards progressive, high-quality, cost-effective and sustainable waste management services which deliver environmental, public health, and economic benefits to all”. This is a step in the right direction.
Institutional governance mechanisms support collaboration to address waste management challenges. At the national level the Ghana National Plastics Action Partnership has developed the National Action Roadmap to provide guidance on ways to manage plastics across the product lifecycle. UNDP, together with those in the waste management value chain, established the Waste Recovery Platform to promote waste recovery in a larger circular economy. In the spirit of leaving no one behind, the platform convenes and integrates the interventions of the government, private sector, and waste entrepreneurs as well as waste pickers, the majority of whom are women and young people. The platform is working together with partners to unblock challenges in the sector by supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.
To address the impact of waste management on cities and urban planning there is the need to provide sustainable financing mechanisms for waste management. The government is working to create an Extended Producer Responsibility framework where importers and local manufacturers share the management and cost burden for end-of-life products. In this way funds will be generated to effectively manage waste in the cities. Through public-private partnerships, innovators in the sector are already being supported through grants and loans to develop home-grown solutions to efficiently manage waste.
Data and technology
Access to information, data, technology, and innovations is crucial for efficient waste management. Technology can be transferred through collaborative partnership arrangements, whilst data and information can be shared using multistakeholder platforms like the UNDP Waste Recovery Platform and the Ghana National Plastic Action Partnership. The Innovation Centre for circular economy that the government seeks to establish under the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation to harness and promote innovation in circular economy, will also facilitate the process.
Ghanaians like Nelson, who began working at a recycling shop at 13 to help support his family, and who now works with waste pickers who collect about 20,000 tonnes of plastic every day, are showing us the way.
He is part of larger ongoing efforts to introduce mass community awareness-raising and information campaigns to address negative community attitudes towards waste management. This is expected to address shift in attitudinal change, as well as encourage financing.
It is important to employ technology and innovation, together with strong and coherent institutional coordination, to adequately provide for the multidimensional and multilevel interventions to address the menace of waste management in urban planning and development and to unlock the potential for jobs for people and protection of the planet.