Growing up in Ghana, waste was either incinerated individually or landfilled or tossed into the environment which ends up clogging the drainage system. Even when collected from the residential areas with the assurance that it will be dealt with, no one knows where it ends up.
This, and much more concern goes on to inform Ghanaians that waste is indeed a cultural issue. Not everyone looks at it the same. It is very important that we understand our environmental difference before we dispose off the waste generated.
Source: EJAtlas, waste pickers of Kpone Landfill site.
Popularly known us the “garbage man” among my peers is what got me asking what our policy concerning waste management systems is in Ghana? Is it centered on: - 1. landfilling? 2. recovering waste resources? 3. Establishment of recycling which there is no historical precedent?
A critical look at the waste management hierarchy diagram below, which is the reduce, reuse, recycle, waste to energy, landfills, isn’t just a catchy phrase but the order in which Ghanaians are supposed to be doing things when it comes to the management of waste.
Landfilling is the least most preferable. Most of the waste generated in Ghana ends up in the landfills. Why is the Government of Ghana creating more landfills and neglecting the other “Rs”, reduce, reuse, and recycle? Ghana’s policy priority should focus on waste reduction which is the most preferred option.
The Government of Ghana revised the Sanitation Policy in 2010 to address the challenges of the old policy published in 1999. The new policy lays the foundation for developing a pragmatic approach and framework to identify and harness resources for value-for-money services to all.
Intuitively, if waste is classified as a resource in Ghana, why are we landfilling the materials generated? Indeed, Ghana has failed to capture the economic aspect of that waste and experiencing the poorly environmental outcome. Also, to take into consideration, not all materials are created equal. Some do have value. Landfilling everything and everywhere could pose an acute risk to the environment. Landfilling the waste generated completely undermines the Government’s policy to recover resources and ignores the “3Rs”: - reduce, reuse, and recycle. The rate at which the population is increasing in Ghana, coupled with the rush for land for development in the bigger cities and an increase in waste generated from the residents got me thinking that landfilling takes a lot of space and a time will quickly come when Ghana will run out of space. The earlier we resort to other alternatives, the better for the economy.
Let us also take into consideration that a poorly designed landfill site could create leachate which in the long run could contaminate the water table. A good example of this danger is the Kpone landfills site, which is in the Greater Accra Region. Who is monitoring the surface and groundwater for leachate and another volatile organic compound? Who has the data generated from the sampling? How much is this costing the Greater Accra Region?
From a sustainable waste management point of view, landfilling does not exist in isolation. In the case of diversion and recovery of resources, landfilling is bad for the environment. Based on the revised policy in 2010, which focuses on capturing the waste Ghanaians generate, we can say attention should not be landfilling. Landfilling sends the wrong signals to the public to generate more waste rather than minimizing.
So, how can Ghanaians divert these materials from ending up in the landfills? Do we have the infrastructure like bins to separate the waste? Who will be collecting the waste materials and where will they go? What type of materials are we looking to recover? What is our goal concerning waste management? How much will this cost each region to manage its waste? Who will be educating the public? How can we use the recovered waste to promote socially beneficial outcomes for the less privileged?
In my previous article “COVID 19 And The Need To Change Ghana’s Waste Management Systems” I did mention that “waste is part of our culture, but doing it right and putting it where it belongs is a habit”.
Clearly, we all have a role to play to make waste not an out-of-sight kind of thing, as all over the world efforts is been put in place to champion the zero waste mantra. Kudos to our president, Nana Akuffo Addo, for cutting sod for Integrated Recycling And Compost Plant And Waste Waste Water Treatment Plant in Ghana published by Modern Ghana on August 19th, 2020. Hopefully, that will not belong on carrots but short on an effective stick.
This will help divert more materials from ending up in landfills, recover resources as our policy states, and free up space in the landfills and address the methane emission which is a potent greenhouse gas emission to catalyze climate change. Ghanaians must take into consideration the “opportunity cost” of what to landfill and not to landfill.
In conclusion, you and I feel the impact when the light goes off and water isn’t flowing but with the case for waste management, it has always been an out of sight from the general public until we start smelling the stench, breathing the toxic air engulfing us. The long-term effect is costly and deadly.
By Environmentalist Nana Adjei
A passionate environmentalist with experience in waste planning, energy, recycling, and composting. Compost Manager for one of the Cities here in Ontario. Member of the Waste Wiki Faculty of Environmental Studies research team. Follow him on Instagram @ambientics_consulting.