Inadequate waste management is threatening to bury Ghana's natural beauty under piles of trash. Part of the Recycle Up! Ghana team, our guest writer Alhassan Baba Muniru is pinning his hopes on the younger generation.
Formerly known as the Gold Coast, Ghana represents one of Mother Africa’s great success stories. It became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from British colonial rule in 1957, has been reaping the benefits of multi-party democracy since 1992 and has built a reputation for being one of the continent's most stable nations.
The country is blessed with enormous natural resources that range from welcoming beaches, diverse wildlife, forestry and fertile land to precious minerals such as gold, diamonds and bauxite, to oil and natural gas reserves - which have helped fuel the country's economic boom.
By contrast, poor refuse management is swamping cities such as Sekondi-Takoradi, Tema, Kumasi, Tamale and Accra in trash, leading Ghana to be one of the ten most polluted countries in the world. The rate at which heaps of solid waste are mounting on main city streets is as alarming as it is devastating.
Big black clouds of smoke billow into the sky from an e-trash fire, causing damage to the environment and human health
The infamous Agbogbloshie suburb of Accra has become the “Mecca” for e-waste dumping, and Kumasi once referred to as the garden city of West Africa has become a “waste city”. The problem is improper garbage disposal which the local authorities have been grappling with for several years.
Starting the big clean-up
Recycle Up! Ghana (RUG) is an initiative of the German NGO Technik ohne Grenzen.V. (TeoG, Technology without Borders) which raises awareness of these environmental issues among high school and university students.
In two-week summer camps, participants are empowered to act as Recycle Up! ambassadors and to develop local solutions to the waste problems in their own communities. Providing guidance for self-help, Recycle Up! Ghana encourages future agents of change to develop entrepreneurial solutions that tackle societal problems.
In a pre-project, TeoG began collecting water sachets in more than 20 schools and sold them for recycling. An average Ghanaian student uses about 3 water sachets a day. Given a school size of about 1,500 students this adds up to 4,500 Sachets a day or 1.6 Million Sachets a year - per school.
A radical rethink
What if education combined with entrepreneurial training for all students in Ghana could help prevent over 2000 tons of waste on the country's streets every day? What if Ghana’s youth contributes to changing the mindset of the whole nation in moving towards a waste free economy?
So far, more than 150 RUG ambassadors have established waste collection and separation systems in over 30 schools and two universities, thereby contributing to the recycling of over 3000 kilograms of plastic trash. Through workshops and speeches at churches, and by engaging local politicians and stakeholders, RUG has raised awareness among tens of thousands of people in urban communities of the need to recycle rather than litter.
There is no thinking waste away. Viable, sustainable solutions are essential to keeping on top of it
These activities will help preserve scarce resources, contribute to better health and sanitation and create additional employment in Ghana’s urban areas. The lessons gained from our three-phase concept - “Knowledge, Experience, Solutions” - combined with the implementation of follow-up projects have a sustainable impact on the waste situation in Ghana’s urban communities. Furthermore, it can be easily implemented by existing NGO’s in any developing country.
Both European and Ghanaian members of the NGO support the initiative’s activities throughout the year by providing the Recycle Up! ambassadors with coaching and fundraising support to help create and implement their local waste tackling solutions.
Alhassan Baba Muniru is one of the co-founders of the Recycle Up! Ghana initiative. He is currently studying for a Masters degree in Sustainable Development (Energy and Material Resources Major) at the universities of Utrecht in the Netherlands and Leipzig in Germany.