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27.05.2014 Opinion

Ghana's Solid Waste Management Problems: The Contributing Factors And The Way Forward

By Isaac Monney
Ghana's Solid Waste Management Problems: The Contributing Factors And The Way Forward
LISTEN MAY 27, 2014

Solid waste management has over the years been an albatross around the neck of city authorities in Ghana. Particularly in Accra and Kumasi, where over 4,000tons of solid waste is generated daily, waste management departments still grapple with the collection of this huge amount of solid waste. Undoubtedly, the capacity of authorities has been greatly overwhelmed by the ever-increasing amounts of waste at urban centres.

Consequently, heaps of solid waste are not uncommon sights in our cities mostly near market centres and low income areas. This presents a host of problems as these huge piles of waste pose grave risks to human life and the environment as well.

Although, numerous researchers have attributed this principally to lack of resources and weak institutional capacities, there seems to be some disregarded factors that also contribute substantially to the status quo. Key among these factors are the following:

Wrong Perception About Solid Waste

Our erroneous perception about solid waste in the country has pushed us much deeper into the abyss we find ourselves currently. While other countries like Singapore, Philippines, Sweden and others are making money out of solid waste, Ghanaians regard all forms of solid waste to be fated for the landfill site. Consequently, most waste management companies, which are supposed to benefit from converting useful resources in our solid waste stream into valuable products have just become waste collection companies. They only collect all the solid waste generated to the landfill site. However, solid waste management goes way beyond just collecting the solid waste generated to a landfill site.

It deals with the control of generation, storage, collection, transfer and transport, processing, and disposal of solid wastes in a manner that conforms to the best principles of public health, economics, engineering, conservation, aesthetics and other environmental considerations and that is also reactive to public attitudes. Thus, with the right mindset on solid waste, incomes can be generated from recovery of useful items while concurrently protecting the environment.

In the Philippines, plastic waste is turned into fuel, Sweden generates energy from its waste to power a quarter of a million homes while Singapore has created an island from its solid waste attracting tourists to the country. But our streets continue to be littered with this useful resource because we regard all of them as waste and therefore have no use whatsoever for it. Though we cannot transplant the technologies used abroad to our country, we can also develop suitable technologies that can make something out of our waste considering its characteristics.

Poverty And Ignorance Among Citizens

The average Ghanaian struggles for what he/she will eat on daily basis and therefore thinks less about what happens to the environment. In a country where citizens have to struggle for almost everything they need to survive, including even transportation to go to and from work and water for various domestic activities, heaps of waste piled up along the streets or accumulated in gutters will be the last thing they will think of. It is evident, without a stretch of imagination that, filthy environments are common sights mostly in the developing world while the developed world generally has squeaky clean environments. Even in our local communities, high income areas are characterised by clean environments while nauseating stench from heaps of waste and choked drains characterise low income ones.

The filth in which we find ourselves now is highly dependent on the widespread poverty among the populace. It is therefore by addressing this fundamental problem that we can escape from the filth that have engulfed us. Poverty reduction programmes should be given a high priority since it is intricately linked to other numerous aspects of the society. It is against this background that eradicating extreme poverty is the topmost priority among the eight Millennium Development Goals developed by the United Nations.

Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that most citizens are not aware of the linkage between poor sanitation and human health. In a study by Adu-Boahen et al. (2014), only 45.5% out of 600 residents in Jukwa in the Central Region of Ghana was able to state that poor sanitation brings about diseases. This outcome may not be entirely different from other communities across the country. Thus, citizens need to be well informed on the perils of poor sanitation and the impacts it has on all aspects of the economy.

White Paper Policies, Strategies And Action Plans For Solid Waste Management

Anyone who reads Ghana's Environmental Sanitation Policy and the accompanying National Environmental Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan (NESSAP) will undoubtedly believe that all is well with the sanitation sector. While heaps of waste continue to pile up in our city centres, action plans for waste management are developed annually and they just remain on paper. In both documents, a laudable philosophy on waste: Materials In Transition (MINT) has been greatly emphasized.

This is aimed at promoting re-use, recycling and recovery of solid waste to create a paradigm shift from the current generate-collect-and-dispose philosophy. Apart from providing jobs for the unemployed, this philosophy could also reduce substantially the cost of managing waste by metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs). However, after almost half a decade since these documents were developed, the implementation of such a creditable proposal is yet to see the light of day.

The only composting and recycling plant in Accra, which partly gives meaning to this vision of MINT was shut down on Monday, 19th May, 2014 due to unfulfilled financial commitments by the government and the jobs of hundreds of workers hang in the balance. After the shut down, the AMA has quickly gone to settle some of the debts owed them. The question is: Does it have to take the shutdown of a compost plant before debts are settled? This is a strong demotivating factor for private companies to invest in the sanitation sector.

Moreover, the NESSAP proposes the establishment of sanitation courts in MMDAs to deal with cases bothering on sanitation. In fulfilment of this recommendation, 11 of such courts were established in Accra in 2010; as if only Accra needs them, while it is yet to be replicated in other cities. But after four years of operation of this court, the actual impact on reducing littering on the streets of Accra and its environs is yet to be felt. Could this be a solution to our solid waste management problems or maybe it was a ploy to scare people from littering the streets?

Non-Regulation Of Waste Management Companies

Generally, privatisation of waste collection has been deemed to contribute significantly to improving the environmental sanitation situation in our cities. But on the flip side, there is no one playing the watchdog role with regards to the operations of these supposed private waste management companies resulting in poor service levels. In areas where these companies are paid by the central government for collecting and transporting waste to the final disposal site, the communal containers usually overflow with heaps of waste before they are collected for disposal. It is as if nobody cares whether the waste is picked on time or not. Even in those areas where there is door-to-door services where residents pay some monies on monthly basis for waste collection, some residents complain of poor services. Who is regulating the activities of these waste management companies and do their service levels affect the renewal or otherwise of their contract?

The Blame Game Among Sector Institutions

Whenever there is a public outcry regarding the filth in our cities, waste management companies quickly point accusing fingers at the MMDAs in charge for non-payment of monies owed them. In rebutting their claim, the MMDAs also blame the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for not releasing the District Assembly Common Fund for payment of sanitation services. According to the NESSAP, MMDAs are to operate a dedicated fund for environmental sanitation which will be sourced from Internally Generated Funds (IGFs), transfers from central government and donor support.

Evidently, although funding of sanitation services is a shared responsibility among the MMDAs, the central government and donors, the huge demands on the IGFs make the transfers from central government and donor support the greater proportion for this dedicated fund. Therefore, while the central government expects the MMDAs to use their IGFs to support sanitation services, the MMDAs also expects the funds from the central government which is released in an untimely manner.

It is however unthinkable that in this modern day and age, the government and local authorities pay for collection of solid waste generated by residents. In some cases, this constitutes about 40% of the annual expenditure of MMDAs thereby putting a huge strain on the meagre revenues needed for developmental projects.

Public Attitude Towards Waste

The reckless littering attitude among the populace in the country is inimical to improving the current environmental sanitation situation across the country. Due to blatant disregard for the environment, people litter the environment indiscriminately. It is not uncommon for one to see passengers throwing waste onto the streets while in a vehicle or people discarding waste shamelessly at lorry stations and other public places.

Their excuse is that, there is no receptacle around to dump waste into but astoundingly, even in areas where there are bins people still dump their waste anywhere. It is this same people who turn around to complain of the filth in our environment. Unfortunately, some people assert that, when they do not dump their waste indiscriminately, waste management companies would be left with no job to do.

Nonetheless, waste can provide a source of income to citizens in the country if avenues are created for some components in our waste stream to be returned for money. Sachet water bags, empty bottles and other forms of plastics could easily be returned for cash and this could be a source of employment for people. Though this is being done in some parts of the country, it needs to be given a big boost. Citizens must be made to regard solid waste as a source of income not something destined for the landfill.

Loopholes In Some Laudable Waste Management Strategies

The establishment of the Accra compost plant is one of the most laudable strategies to partly deal with the seemingly insurmountable waste management problems that confront the AMA. Composting, as literature has it, becomes a suitable option for waste management when there is source separation of waste and a high demand for the compost produced. However, much attention has not been paid to source separation of solid waste prior its transfer to the composting site. The workers at the site will therefore have to sort the waste before going through the various unit processes. Eventually, the compost produced needs to be harnessed for crop production. But once again, there is a missing link: how many acres of land have been provided for large scale utilisation of the compost so as to generate profit while provide food for the populace? The profits can be used to offset the collection costs whereas people are also employed to work at the plant. We really need to dot the i's and cross the t's during the development and implementation of such strategies in order to rake in the full benefits.

Additionally, in 2011 and 2012, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development with the support of some development partners organised the first and second National Environmental Sanitation Conference (NESCON) respectively. This provided the platform for sector professionals and research bodies to showcase cutting edge technologies and strategies to deal with the sanitation problems in the country. However, after these two episodes, due to the usual excuse of lack of funds, this commendable effort has just fizzled out.

Without a stretch of imagination, anyone would think that dealing with the sanitation challenges is not being given the needed attention by the government; a notion which is vehemently rebutted by some government representatives. If there are funds for the National Economic Forum to proffer solutions to our economic challenges, there should also be funds for a NESCON. Undoubtedly, authorities have lost sight of the fact that, sanitation is intricately linked with health, education, productivity, agriculture and other vital aspects of the economy. We must dedicate much efforts to improving sanitation across the country, which can prevent most of the diseases reported in our OPDs daily rather than curing these diseases.

Low Involvement Of Entrepreneurs In Managing Solid Waste

While entrepreneurs regard solid waste management as an avenue to make profits, MMDAs regard it as a drain on their meagre revenues. Entrepreneurs would go to any length to make profit from their businesses and therefore their involvement in solid waste management would contribute immensely to improving the status quo. They should be supported to put up material recovery and recycling plants in order to realise their profits from the waste they collect but not only transporting the waste to the landfill site. If entrepreneurs realise they could make for instance Gh¢5 from every kilogram of plastic waste or organic waste, this would make it an attractive avenue for them to put to bear their creative thinking capabilities. The central government and MMDAs could contribute by creating the enabling environment for them to operate, including tax reductions at the initial stage of their business.

Huge Gap Between Research And Policy Development

A plethora of research works on solid waste management are just lying on the shelves of universities and research bodies. Meanwhile some of these studies, if not all, have proposed practicable strategies that could be helpful in dealing with the solid waste management problems. Are the authorities even aware of the numerous studies have been conducted on solid waste management in the country? Does the MMDAs aware of the research works conducted in their respective areas? I believe the action plans by these MMDAs for solid waste management should be based on these studies but not on unfounded foreign theories and speculations. Synergies could be developed between research institutions and MMDAs for the former to conduct studies that would eventually contribute directly to unravelling the mystery surrounding the management of solid waste in our local communities. Below are just a few of the several studies conducted in the country on solid waste management:

Author(s) Research topic

Kwaku Oduro-Appiah , Daniel Ohene Aidoo, Graham Sarbah Fee-based solid waste collection in economically developing countries: The case of Accra metropolis

Isaac Monney Benjamin Makimula Tiimub, Henry Chendire Bagah Characteristics and management of household solid waste in urban areas in Ghana: the case of WA

K. Adu-Boahen, G. Atampugre, K.B. Antwi, A. Osman, K.N. Osei, E.A. Mensah, A.O. Adu-Boahen
Waste management practices in Ghana: challenges and prospect, Jukwa Central Region

Anomanyo, D.E. Integration of Municipal Solid Waste Management in Accra (Ghana): Bioreactor Treatment Technology as an Integral Part of the Management Process

Boadi, K. O. & Kuitunen, M. Municipal Solid Waste Management in the Accra Metropolitan Area, Ghana

Ketibuah, E., Asase M., Yusif S., Mensah, M.Y. & Fischer, K. Comparative Analysis of Household
Waste in the Cities of Stuttgart and Kumasi-Option for Waste Recycling and Treatment in Kumasi

Kotoka, P. Physical Analysis of Solid Waste in Selected High-Income Communities in Kumasi

Mensah, A. A. Physico-Chemical Characteristics of Solid Waste and Treatment Options: A Case Study of Kumasi, Ghana

Oduro-Kwarteng, S. Private Sector Involvement in Urban Solid Waste Collection: Performance, Capacity, and Regulation in Five Cities in Ghana

Obirih-Opareh, N. and Post, J. Quality Assessment of Public and Private Modes of Solid Waste Collection in Accra

Puopiel, F. (2010) Solid Waste Management in Ghana: The Case of Tamale Metropolitan Area

Tsiboe, I. A. & Marbell, E. A Look at Urban Waste Disposal Problems in Accra, Ghana

van Dijk, P.M. & Oduro-Kwarteng, S. Urban Management and Solid Waste Issues in Africa

The Way Forward

Looking ahead into the future, the following measures must be adopted to curb the menace of insanitary environmental conditions in our country:

In the short term to medium term:

1. Intensive investigations should be carried out to acquire suitable areas to be used in the near future for the construction of a landfill site that would cater for the heaps of waste in our cities.

2. Measures should be put in place to ensure prompt payment of services rendered by private waste management companies. It is by so doing that the government can play its watchdog role to make solid waste collection competitive among these companies.

3. More entrepreneurs should be brought on board to assist in the management of waste through waste collection, recycling, material and energy recovery. This should be preceded by the creation of the enabling environment for them to operate in order to realise their profits eventually. This would attract more investments into the sector.

4. Public education is key to surmounting this huge challenge. There should be intensive public education in the electronic and print media about the perils of indiscriminate dumping of refuse. The media should be conscientized to organize public education programmes as part of their corporate social responsibilities and award schemes instituted to recognize their efforts. Key public figures and celebrities could be brought on board as environmental sanitation ambassadors to educate the public on the need for environmental cleanliness.

5. MMDAs would have to enhance their revenue mobilisation capacities in order to rake in more revenue for the management of waste as well. Evidently, when there is meagre resources available but huge demands (roads, education, health care etc), waste collection would be the last priority to dedicate funds for.

6. A large scale agriculture project must be developed alongside the Accra compost plant to make use of the resulting compfost. This will contribute to ensuring food security in our country, provide jobs for people and keep our environment clean.

7. More waste receptacles should be provided at market centres, lorry parks and other public places to provide a drop off point for citizens who may be willing to "do the right thing".

8. Existing waste recovery practices being undertaken on a small scale should be identified and supported to through private-public partnerships to boost their capacity.

9. The general public must be made to pay for collection of solid waste from their communities. This should however be a gradual process and involve several stakeholders in determining appropriate fees to be charged.

In the long term:
1. MMDAs should collaborate with research institutions to undertake studies on solid waste management in their respective areas and furnish them with the outcomes to aid decision making and action planning.

2. All MMDAs must be assisted by the central government to construct engineered landfill sites for waste disposal in order to avert the health and environment threats associated with open dumping of waste as is currently the case in most parts of the country.

3. Construction of more waste recycling and energy recovery plants through public-private partnerships should be given a high priority. This will not only ensure environmental sustainability but also provide a source of employment.

4. Communal stalls where residents can easily take their sorted waste for cash should be promoted. This would provide a source of employment to people while concurrently keeping our environment clean and continuously feeding the available waste recycling plants with the needed raw materials.

5. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development must develop a compendium of all sanitation-related research works conducted across the country to aid policy development.

6. The Government must focus more attention on interventions to eradicate extreme poverty among citizens in the country.

Mr. Isaac Monney (Email: [email protected])

The Author Is A Lecturer At The Department Of Environmental Health And Sanitation Of The University Of Education Winneba. He Has Conducted Wide-Ranging Studies In Water, Sanitation And Hygiene Issues In The Country.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."