Gloria Bobson, Program Assistant at the Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) and Betty Osei Bonsu Environmentalist and co-founder of Green Empowerment Network (GEN), share with us the outcome of the National Dialogue held at the FAO regional offices in Accra, Ghana, last October 31. Read more below!
“Nothing to Waste: Seizing agro-waste to create jobs and well-being”
Accra, 31 October 2019 – Youth in Landscapes Initiatives – National Dialogue
The earth is finite and its population is growing, spaces are decreasing, waste is increasing and the environment is rapidly deteriorating. We are at a defining moment, and reckless management of waste in Ghana is a defining issue of our time. Leaders and regulators are elected, but in name only and are numb to action. Crises are erupting every day from improper waste management: drains are becoming silted and clogged, rivers are filled with waste, fish stocks are dwindling, the aesthetic beauty of nature is disappearing, and we are at a climate-change crisis. Sometimes, the attitude of some citizens could make the situation worse, as littering has become very common. Until we see waste as a resource, we will continue to battle it as an immediate threat – one that only sinks us as if in a boat with holes at its base.
The National Dialogue
The waste crisis in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, and other cities in our country has created a battle that has to be fought on a daily basis. The lack of collaboration, planning, infrastructure, effective waste management systems, and policy implementation makes it even more difficult to win this self-inflicted “war”. Waste is perceived as nothing that could be useful but is instead suitable only for landfill sites, open spaces and drains, streams and beaches. This information and the debate around, was presented by Betty Osei Bonsu, Environmental Officer/Co-founder of Green Empowerment Network, Ghana (GEN) during a speech on the causes and challenges of waste management in Ghana.
All of this has led to significant problems with pollution in water, land, and air. The country is estimated to spend close to US$ 290 million per year on sanitation that remains poor. Despite the many challenges, youth in Ghana are offering innovations and entrepreneurship to contribute towards making Accra, and ultimately, Ghana, one of the cleanest countries in the world. They are slowly making strides in shifting the narrative from “waste just being waste” to “waste as a resource (material-in-transition),” providing practical solutions on the many ways waste can be re-used.
On 31 October, the day after the close of the Global Landscapes Forum Accra conference, the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL), together with GLF, delivered a half-day event designed to tackle one of the biggest issues facing Ghana: waste management. The event, held at the FAO regional offices in Accra, saw 40 people who are living in Ghana but with different backgrounds, sharing with each other and with experts some of the key issues and possible solutions related to waste management.
A presentation by Prince Agbata, co-founder of Coliba, on waste management solutions provided insights on the role his company is playing to reduce plastic waste in some communities in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire through technology (mobile and web-based applications). An interesting point about his presentation was his mode of business operation. Agbata had studied the markets in both countries and designed his model to suit their circumstances. Coliba is a recycling company that collects polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, processes them into pellets for export and provides incentives to community residents who take part in the collection process. In Accra, Agbata realized that people needed cash in exchange for plastic so they could purchase other goods; however, in Cote d’Ivoire, people needed Internet services. In response, Coliba partnered with a telecommunications firm in Cote d’Ivoire’s capital city of Abidjan to provide data in exchange for (used) bottles.
The National Dialogue on waste management issues brought forward interesting observations on various types of waste in Ghana, their potential use as a resource, and how this can create opportunities for youth. Plastic waste is the type most often mentioned and frequently seen as the ‘only’ waste problem in the country.
- The National Dialogue guided participants to look beyond plastic waste and consider the other types of waste that also have impacts on our ecosystems. Some of the other types of waste identified included food waste/agricultural waste, electronic waste, medical, and industrial waste.
- As a Green entrepreneur, one should first know and understand the markets he/she wants to operate in and be willing to adapt/adjust the model/idea to meet community needs, as practiced by Coliba; i.e:
- an entrepreneur should have a flexible mind on how his/her idea should be applied
- an entrepreneur should always observe and take decisions with positive impacts.
- Through a mapping exercise during the Dialogue, the life cycle of a waste product – from manufacture to the trashcan – was assessed, along with various opportunities available to make the process circular, rather than the linear model that burdens the environment.
- One of the groups that focused on agro-waste demonstrated the use of bagasse (residue from sugar cane production) as a biodegradable packaging material to help eliminate styrofoam that can cause long-term pollution. This clearly shows that nothing needs to be wasted.
- Participants agreed to make efforts to reduce their waste by:
- eliminating all disposables e.g. carrying reusable tote bags for grocery shopping,
- composting kitchen waste,
- reducing and recycling plastics.
- Make a positive change where you are and impact lives when you can.
Several individuals from various backgrounds came together to look for solutions to this pressing issue; solutions that should be practiced around the globe. During the Dialogue, several important points were made, ideas were solicited, solutions were presented and knowledge was gained. It was agreed that in order to keep the conversation running and to extend it beyond the four walls of the discussion venue, we have to:
- Improve the collaboration between various private players and stakeholders in waste management. The Environmental Protection Agency, regulatory bodies, traditional rulers, metropolitan and municipal assemblies, governments, the private sector and individuals are all stakeholders in this issue and collective effort amongst these players, as opposed to working in silos, will improve the waste crisis.
- Improve relationship between governments and traditional leaders.
- Case study: Here in Ghana, the chiefs – and not governments – own most of the lands, apart from the centralized areas such as the national capital of Accra. The government has been entrusted with administration of the land but cannot exercise full control without consulting the traditional leaders, especially in other regions and towns. But chiefs can refuse to share their lands for such purposes, preferring instead to wait for the highest bidder for the land. This can, in turn, block planned infrastructures.
- Better collaboration among governments, traditional leaders, and individuals could lead to significant progress.
- Promote attitudinal change, from viewing waste as more than just waste to seeing it as a resource, should be the next focus. There should be mainstream acceptance for recycling as well as waste management; and a fostering of a sense of waste management as a moral value and one of social responsibility rather than a narrow focus on survival and daily income.
- Bridge the gap between government and private sector players, especially young players. The government needs to create an enabling environment so that NGOs, social enterprises and companies solving environmental issues can thrive. Considering that waste is one of the major hurdles in Ghana, making provisions for new waste treatment and recycling plants through budget allocation will go a long way to minimize the amount of waste generated by 32 million people across the country, decrease unemployment and improve our well-being.
- Action should be geared towards reducing, reusing and recycling products in high demand and manufactured products, rather than call for an increase in landfills.
- Intensify public awareness and education: This should include activities such as meeting and having discussions with youth in schools, colleges, universities, and communities on waste management and recycling. This is to ensure that advocacy is planted from the foundation and waste segregated at source.
- For future dialogues, government officials should be invited as well as stakeholders who are willing to invest or make funds available to young entrepreneurs in the waste industry.
Yes, we have waste challenges in Ghana and the issue poses a threat. It[Waste] has become an eyesore and a political flashpoint with slow responses towards the eradication of waste in the country. Although we seek measures for a clean environment, too often we perform activities that inevitably lead to pollution. The 1992 Constitution of Ghana spells out clearly that it shall be the duty of every citizen to protect and safeguard the environment. We must leverage the waste management sector to create opportunities for youth. There is “Nothing to waste” as we, stakeholders in the environment, should learn to repair, reduce and then reuse. Waste is a resource and the environment is our future.