'Eco-conscious Kofi' and 'Just-passing Ama' – Experiments by UNDP Ghana’s Accelerator Lab on recycling

December 20, 2019


Pure water sachets being recycled into school bags. Photos: UNDP


By Allen Anie, Head of Experimentation, UNDP Ghana Accelerator Lab

Ghana’s production of waste is rising rapidly, along with an increasing population and expanding economy. 75% of solid waste is simply discarded and only about 1.5% of plastic waste is recycled, contributing to poor sanitation and pollution. Much of this waste is recoverable, with an estimated value of US$ 15 billion. The potential for a circular economy is huge, but the current reality presents a significant policy challenge. Despite some pockets of good practice in waste-management, many issues need urgent attention.

In response to challenges such as this, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has set up an innovative network of Accelerator Labs across the globe, including in Ghana, to identify, test and scale up solutions to developmental challenges.

In synergy with other initiatives being undertaken by UNDP in Ghana, such as the ‘Waste’ Recovery Platform, the Accelerator Lab is currently identifying, mapping and testing grassroots solutions for waste management. The aim is to drive changes in behaviour, increase take-up of recycling and thus improve waste management. One such solution is a plastic recycling project which enables homes and businesses to deposit their recyclable plastic bottles in branded containers, at fuel stations across Accra.

The Ghana Accelerator Lab team is deploying Behavioural Insight techniques to understand how individuals make decisions on recycling. Early results indicate that households and businesses prefer their recyclable waste to be collected at their doorsteps, instead of taking it to recycling points. Typically, this is linked to issues of accessibility (location of recycling points), affordability (perceived costs of the journey to recycling points - including time), and the existence of alternatives (including whether there is a recyclable waste collection service in place).

Recycling is not an entirely new concept in Ghana. Some communities have always re-used items – including plastic bottles. Indeed, there is an informal community which goes from house to house collecting plastic waste, for free or for a fee. But can informal solutions cope with the volume of plastic waste being generated?

Through semi-structured interviews, data analysis and observation, the Lab is tracking the volumes of plastic deposited, as well as perceptions of existing and potential users of the recycling service. The preliminary findings are showing different behavioural archetypes of recyclers.  Archetypes help to describe the typical motivations and attitudes of those who recycle – and include “Eco-conscious Kofi”, “Maybe Mansa” and “Just-passing Ama”. Eco-conscious Kofi is a generally eco-conscious Ghanaian, often working in a professional role in the waste-services sector, an expatriate, or a Ghanaian who has returned home after living overseas, with exposure to recycling schemes. Recycling is established behaviour in this group. Maybe Mansa is often an avid browser of social media, and publicity and advocacy about recycling on social media may be the trigger to visit the recycling point. However, recycling by this group is only intermittent. A Just-passing Ama only recycles when they happen to be close to the recycling location and it is convenient – which in some cases is about every 3 months or so.

The purpose of applying Behavioural Insight is to understand what it takes to shift people from being a Just-passing Ama to a Maybe Mansa or better still an Eco-conscious Kofi. In further experiments, The Lab will then design a set of “nudges” (easy and low-cost suggestions) to encourage and accelerate recycling behaviour.

For more about the UNDP’s Global Accelerator Labs see https://acceleratorlabs.undp.org