Ghana – the world’s latest refuse dump

You would think that with the depressing statistics in relation to our environment, the Government (and people) of Ghana would be making strides to clean up our country as the population booms.

Instead, we prefer to accept gifts of refuse.

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Fact 1: Ghana ranks 109 out of 163 countries in the Environmental Performance Index of 2010 which is 16th out of 48 ranked African countries

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Fact 2: Ghana’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG 7) for sanitation is 54%. So far we stand at 14%. (Clearly we won’t meet our goal by 2015).

We are given donations of electronics and half of them don’t work. Hence Ghana has been dubbed one of the world’s “digital dumping grounds”. (There’s a latest documentary on e-waste in Ghana. Please watch!)

On top of this, we are importing refuse into the country at the expense of not only our health but also our economy.

Surprised? Don’t be.

We all know that Ghana is seriously battling a plastic waste menace but on two weeks ago, there was a 3-day event held at the Accra Trade Fair Center to welcome investors into the plastic industry.

Yes, we want MORE plastic.

I stopped by on the second day to do some looking around and conduct a few interviews, to test the knowledge of the vendors and here’s what I found out:

1. They only care about themselves

The event was hosted by the the Indian Plastics Export Promotion Council to bring ‘the Indian plastic industry at your doorstep.’ This council was set up by India’s government to promote exports from the Indian plastic industry.

And just look at how unbalanced their exports versus ours are.“Imports from India to Ghana increased to $314,491,460 at the end of 2009 from $307,534,508 in 2008. Ghana’s exports to India have fluctuated between the lowest figure of $6.85 million in 2001 and the highest figure of $204.4 million in 2008. Half of the 2008 figure is accounted for by cocoyam exports with a value of $105 million.”

Those quotes are from their Trade Fair Brochure. This is purely business ladies and gentlemen.  The first company I chanced upon was Pridi PETa plastics company. They create smaller plastic preforms that can be blown up into larger containers (bottles) for storing of water, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, soft drinks, liquor, jams and so on.

When I questioned them about the plastic waste issue in Ghana and their policy toward sustainability or recycling, the representative plainly told me that:

  • They don’t use recycled materials
  • What happens to the product after use is not the company’s responsibility and recycling is not their duty
  • Their products are meant to hold food and so the grade quality calls for new plastic
  • Their materials are quality and can be recycled to make slippers, carpets, etc if so desired

They care not whether we live or die here in Africa. It is all about the money.

2. They know what they are doing is wrong 

When you are dealing with business men from a country more developed than yours, you know they’ve at least had some exposure. And in the case of India it’s even worse because they are advocates of renewable energy and recycling. But when interviewing Shrinath Roto Pack Pvt Ltd.:

  • I was told there was no sustainability policy for business in Ghana
  • I was dismissed by the representative of this company very quickly upon asking questions of sustainability or recycling
  • Other male customers and Asian customers were given priority over me (a Ghanaian lady)

I could tell that this man and most of the others I spoke to did not expect to even be questioned on such things. Only a person who knows the wrong they are doing has something to hide.

3. They know our government won’t stop them

Out of the whole lot of Indians there happened to be a company based in Paris called Snector Chimie present. They are suppliers of raw materials for plastic production and were also taking advantage of the marketing platform. My conversation with one of the reps on recycling and Ghana’s waste problem yielded some interesting insights from an outsider:

  • They believe it is the job of the government to encourage the creation and sustenance of industries that specialize in dealing with waste
  • They believe it is the job of the government to create incentives and tax breaks so that its beneficial for companies to recycle what they create
  • They believe it is the job of the government to develop educational programs for citizens to know the importance of recycling for the nation
  • They believe Ghana has a long way to go

And so the industries will continue to come in and dump on us making millions in profit because they know our government won’t stop them.

4. There are other options but we don’t use them

Not all the participants came to dump their trash on us as I initially supposed. There were a few bright spots. One of these was the Labh Group. They make machinery for manufacturing of plastic packaging, but they also sell recycling equipment.

That made me smile.

I’m keeping their card handy. But I wondered how many others would actually use the opportunity to do Ghana some good. This was the only company I found to do something like this but at least it’s a start.

Another positive company was EnerPlastics. This company has created a great solution to the bio-degradability of plastics. Usually plastic takes 100 years to degrade by itself. In order to speed up this process the company has developed a plastic additive in the form of an oxo-biogradable solution.

Once sunlight falls on the plastic for an extended period of time, the additive is activated and the bag turns into fragments then powder and degrades within the soil in 3 to 4 years. They do cost 10% more than regular plastics but this is where our government could come in.

This additive serves all the plastic producing industries but can only be used for polythene films (which is our main problem anyway).

This is a viable solution to problems in Ghana. As a matter of fact, Koala Supermarket in Osu uses these types of bags (is that why everything is so expensive?) and I believe it really is a step in the right direction.

We really do have options. We just refuse to use them.

And the dumping continues…

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About The Green Ghanaian Intiative

Akua Akyaa Nkrumah is a Ghanaian environmental technologist based in Accra, Ghana. She studied Environmental Science and Technology at the University of Maryland - College Park. She currently works as a consultant for environment and climate change in Accra and has a passion for water, sanitation, recycling and renewable energy
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7 Responses to Ghana – the world’s latest refuse dump

  1. Really great findings,just awoken a sense of responsibility towards the environment in me I solidly agree with you and will do whatever I can do to curb this menace in my own small way. Great job miss.

    Like

  2. Hello there, You have done a fantastic job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m sure they’ll be benefited from this website.

    Like

  3. Jestyl says:

    Some gud stats der. Wld lyk a word wif lady researcher. Aniwaes vewi gud work.

    Like

  4. Bakkan Wirige says:

    Great job. The political to sort this out is not there so it is up to citizens to organize. There is technology to convert waste into electricity and one Scandinavian country actually has to import waste to feed some power plants.

    Like

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