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18.05.2020 Opinion

COVID-19 And The Need To Change Ghana’s Waste Management Systems

By Nana Adjei
COVID-19 And The Need To Change Ghana’s Waste Management Systems
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As Africa, specifically Ghana, is scrambling to find solutions to COVID-19 and be recognized globally for its contribution towards the development of a vaccine to fight the virus, let me use this opportunity to commend our front-liners for their tremendous efforts in battling this pandemic and putting their lives at risk to rescue others. I would like to express thank you to frontliners both locally and globally.

All the brouhaha made by social media and health experts encouraging people to wear gloves, face masks, use hand sanitizers and practice social distancing are important steps in stopping the spread of the virus. Used syringes, needles, sharp objects, tissues and the test kits at the hospitals and local clinics make me question from an environmental point of view:

1. Where the hazardous waste generated from both the government and private hospitals goes to?

2. Who is collecting it?

3. Is it being sent to an open landfill or a designated one?

Waste management in Ghana is seen as an out of sight, out of mind kind of thing. Some of the challenges facing the waste sector includes:

1. Lack of enforcement of waste by-laws.

2. Lack of taxes concerning the management of waste.

3. Land acquisition for the management of waste as the current Kpone landfills site exceeds its capacity.

4. Lack of monitoring of the landfill sites (groundwater sampling)to determine contaminants, example leachate.

5. Lack of education for proper disposal of waste.

During the lockdown, the government of Ghana did its best to clean most parts of the cities and disinfect the market places and most public places. What the government failed to do was to provide well labelled bins for people to toss their waste into. When the lockdown is lifted, this will be important to maintain the cleanliness the government started.

COVID 19 has really taught Ghanaians that waste is part of our culture, but doing it right and putting it where it belongs is a habit. Ghana’s poorly designed waste management systems has enlightened the citizenry of the need to start practising source separation programs (organic, garbage, recycling) for our non-hazardous waste and strict pragmatic policy to handle the hazardous waste generated from the hospitals/clinics.

Globally, there are standard policies for handling medical waste, as it could be corrosive, poisonous, explosive and flammable. In the case of COVID 19, it is highly transmittable and it needs special attention and handling. It should be sent to a designated landfill (class A landfill) and not an open space landfill as for non-hazardous waste. This is due to the possible resurgence of the virus.

This brings me back to the question: do we have the infrastructure to handle our hazardous waste? Who is responsible for handling the health care waste? Who handles the data? According to Robert Ohene Adu et al, 2020, on their research captioned “Medical Waste-Sorting And Management Practices in Five Hospitals in Ghana” identified that most of the hazardous waste generated from hospitals are mixed with non-hazardous waste and that can be infectious since no pretreatment is done. Some too are incinerated which pose health risks to the surrounding communities.

Let’s go back to the waste collectors that come to our various homes to collect the waste (non-hazardous).These collectors do have higher risk of being infected with the virus from gloves, used tissues and face masks used by individuals from their various homes. The reason for this is that it is not source separated. Instead, it is commingled waste (all the waste generated put together). This puts those at the dump site at risk (landfill areas).

Environmentalists are worried about the waste that could potentially build up from the over usage of disinfectants (plastics) as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect people around Ghana and the rest of the world, while health experts worry about the exposure to COVID 19 when handling the waste.

The way forward is for the government of Ghana to:

1. Constantly educate the public to place face masks , used tissues and used gloves in a bag before disposing them into the garbage stream. The World Health Organization (WHO) standard states that individuals should double their waste bag to prevent the spread of the virus.

2. Appoint a waste coordinator/officer for all government hospitals to track and manage the hazardous waste and non- hazardous waste. The same applies to private hospitals. The waste officer will also undertake a waste audit and apply the waste management hierarchy to reduce waste generated. That can also aid in addressing the unemployment issues Ghana is facing.

3. Take into consideration the tonnes of hazardous waste materials generated during this pandemic.

4. Estimate to determine the long term landfilling for both hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

5. Ensure hazardous waste is sent to the designated landfills (class A landfills or assigned depot).

6. Communicate data to the public. The greatest challenge facing the waste management industry is data. Without data,the general public will not be informed on the performance of waste policies that address the waste menace Ghana is facing in the long term. Without data, how can Ghana develop realistic goals?

7. Ban the importation of second hand clothing during this pandemic. Most of the cargo bringing in second hand clothing is filled with rubbish - unclean clothes in bad shape, which ends up in the Ghanaian environment, becoming a burden for the country. The developed world is already struggling with finding alternative ways to dispose of their textiles and used clothing. A good example is the COVID infested PPE identified in Ghana.

Penultimate, every citizenry must try their possible not to dispose of their protective equipment like the gloves or face masks in the environment as it can end up in our open gutters and clog our drainage systems. As I mentioned in my previous article “what is the goal of waste management systems in Ghana”. Let’s try hard to be a product of the environment and not the environment being a product of us.

By N. Adjei

A passionate environmentalist with experience in waste management planning, GHG and energy planning software, RetScreen International Expert. He currently works for the Department of Solid Waste in the 4th largest City in North America . Currently he is developing a Business Plus Model that will be delivered to the Ministry of Energy to aid the energy crisis. It is his dream to see Ghana utilize 100% renewable energy. Solar is doable, the time is right so is the price. It is for the hoi polloi. Follow him on Instagram @Ambientics_Consulting.

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