Walking through the streets of Ghana, one may conclude that like many other African countries, Ghana has not fully adopted the practice of waste sorting even though some levels of waste sorting takes place at a variety of places including the dumping sites.
This minimal practice has indeed contributed to sustaining the livelihood of many people including the scavengers of the informal sector who earn their daily bread from the dumping sites.
Currently, Accra does not have any engineered landfill site and it is becoming difficult for AMA to acquire land for this purpose. Many land custodians are unwilling to release land for reasons that would be acceptable for many.
Whiles some say by releasing such lands, their communities will be exposed to unmitigated health and environmental concerns, others cite social problems and the unpalatable stigma that would be associated to the area by allowing dumping sites to be situated there.
These concerns are quite legitimate considering the fact that waste may originate from afar and when dumped, those who live close-by are more at risk of all kinds of diseases. Such unfortunate exposure to environmental risk thus calls for incentives to be given to those most at risk and even given a guaranteed complete insulation from the potential risks of waste disposal.
Source separation at such waste disposal sites refers to a conscious effort or practice of categorizing waste into components at the point of generation to avoid mix-up and contamination. This has become necessary owing to the fact that the world is increasingly becoming conscious of environmental sustainability thereby, precipitating innovations such as material recovery in the waste management industry.
Recycling and reuse are often considered as better options as opposed to landfilling or open dump sites which comes with numerous environmental, economic, health and social problems. At the heart of an effective waste value addition intervention, is a well-designed waste separation scheme that channels usable components of the waste stream to various value addition activities.
These waste pickers or “waste champions” gather materials in small quantities and sell to middlemen who then aggregate them and further sell to larger recycling companies. Unfortunately, our society seems to have turned a blind eye on them as their activities largely remain informal, unassisted and not regulated.
The “waste champions” hardly receive support in the form of logistics, training in occupational health and safety, vaccination, access to credit, micro-finance etc. These waste pickers teach us a simple lesson and confirm the old saying “where there is muck there is money” or in riches abound in waste and when well exploited can help create enduring businesses.
CHF International, an international development organization operating in 25 countries (including Ghana), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, piloted a source waste separation scheme in three communities in Accra under its Youth Engagement in Service Delivery (YES) project.
Following the scheme’s assessment, four key challenges were identified to be addressed if any source waste separation scheme is to be successful in future and these are: regulation, currently, there is no law (or bye-law) that mandates people to sort their waste and hence no punishment for non-compliance; Sustained Education, people are still not abreast with the importance of waste sorting and therefore there is the need for a sustained Behavioral Change Communication (BCC); incentive, appropriate incentives are essential at the initial stages of source separation scheme to ensure heavy patronage; recycling units/facilities, since all separated materials are expected to be recycled or reused, it is important that recycling or value addition facilities are in place before the scheme starts
Records at the Waste Management Department (WMD) of Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) show that Accra’s municipal solid waste is estimated at 2200 tonnes per day with about 80% collected and disposed. This leaves a deficit of 20% which undergoes various disposal methods including burying, burning and disposal in open gutters, drains and unapproved corridors.
The waste management department of Accra also reveals that Accra’s solid waste, by weight, consists of 65% organics, 6% paper, 1.7% textiles, 3.5% plastics, 3% glass, 2.5% metals, 17.1 inert, and 1.2 of other materials.
Another study by Carboo and Fobil in 2005 stated that the organic portion of Accra’s solid waste is between 80-90% by weight and juxtaposing the city’s waste content against the waste collection and disposal approach being implemented reveals an untapped and wasted opportunity in the system.
The most obvious and sustainable option for the city is an approach that adds value to the various waste components and this is more important when stakeholders live to the expectation of the National Environment Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan’s (NESSAP) definition of waste as Material In Transition (MINT).
The 1997 Kyoto protocol through its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows countries like Ghana to undertake sustainable projects to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and therefore contribute to the global effort at tackling climate change.
This presents an opportunity for the entire country and Accra in particular to tap methane gases from existing landfill sites or undertake composting projects which can earn the city some carbon credits that can be traded globally.
Due to the fact that accessing the carbon credits requires huge financial investment and the process is complex and cumbersome many investors have been deterred from that investment and that perhaps also explains why Ghana has till date only been able to register one solid waste management project under the CDM.
Another concern is the fact that the Kyoto Protocol officially ends on 31st December 2012 and it is uncertain whether there will be a post-Kyoto Agreement on issues of CDM and carbon credit. But irrespective of the continuity of the Kyoto Protocol, composting still presents an opportunity to recycle at least 60% (by weight) of our municipal solid waste into organic fertilizers.
This is equally important considering its usefulness in agriculture and the fact that it will help to save space at landfill sites as compost improves the physical and chemical properties of soils for food production.
Other noted advantages for composting includes: replenishing soil nutrients, improving soil texture, improving soil structure and consistency, improving aeration and moisture holding capacity of soils, regulating soil temperature and improving the activities of soil fauna and flora etc.
Economically, composting also presents an opportunity to create jobs for the youth especially for those involved in the supply of organic waste (waste pickers), compost production, marketers, fabricators of composting equipment etc, not forgetting its contribution to improve upon a nation’s environmental performance.
Fortunately, there is an existing market for some waste components including plastics, scrap metals, and electronic wastes. These components are already market driven but the challenge now is to ensure adequate retrieval from the environment.
For instance, the plastic stream (including thin film sachet plastics) has numerous buyers and each is estimated to employ an average of 200 plastic pickers. Yet, the current rate of plastic retrieval is less than 50% - according to an executive of the Plastic Collectors Association, Accra.
This is particularly serious given that it naturally takes between 500-1000 years for plastic materials to decompose. The good news for now is that, the plastic waste sorting seems to have been embraced and is workable. Therefore, with a little boost, more can be achieved in getting our cities rid of plastic filth.
In sum with this short feature I am arguing that with a little more effort, we can solve our waste concerns if the following measures are given due consideration and adopted.
We need firstly a regulation to enforce all government departments, agencies and institutions with more than 15 employees to separate their plastic waste; then hotels, restaurants and ‘chop bars’ should be mandated to separate plastics and organic waste; all schools (basic and senior high schools) should be mandated to separate plastics; and all markets and places of public gathering including lorry packs should have plastic collection facilities and these should serve as short term measures.
In the long term, there should be some established points with fully labeled containers in each community where scrap metals and electronic waste could be disposed for recycling. By then, more facilities would have been constructed for composting at the community levels thereby necessitating a mandatory organic waste separation in addition to the plastic at government departments, schools, hospitals, households, and all facets of life in Accra. Let’s do it.
A GNA feature by S.O Dodoo