15 Aug

Image: The Ghana Report

Article by: Rosemary Balami (National Operator, YRE Ghana) // Edits: CeSt

What happens when negative attitudes towards the environment intertwine with improper waste management? This is one of the most common challenges facing the Ghanaian community in the fight for a clean environment. 

Not a day goes by without encountering indiscriminate disposal of rubbish across the length and breadth of the country. The rise of litter across urban and rural areas in Ghana has become a crisis which demands immediate attention. In this article, Young reporters for Environment Ghana, sheds light on the gravity of the situation and explores the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to tackle this growing environmental and health concern.

Today, it is rife to see passengers in public transport vehicles dropping plastic water sachets on roads. It is somewhat common to find citizens dispose of rubbish indiscriminately without taking into consideration the negative impacts of such behaviors. It is therefore an indisputable fact that littering has become an ingrown habit and a part and parcel of the Ghanaian society.  Or maybe rather it is a continuation of an old habit from when all our packaging was made of organic material and would degrade back to soil wherever we threw it, given our tropical climate advantages? Maybe it just hasn't dawned on Ghanaians that the non-degradable waste products that have been introduced to our economy as a  tsunami over the past 20 years, such as plastics, needs a systematic different approach altogether?

According to UNDP, in Ghana, about 12,710 tonnes of solid waste is generated every day, with only 10 percent being disposed of and collected  properly. Plastic waste constitutes a large proportion of urban waste. This however highlights the shortcomings of recycling culture in the society. Ghana still lags behind when in terms of transitioning from a linear economy to a circular economy. 

A look at the Causes:

Several factors contribute to the littering crisis in Ghana. Firstly, the lack of proper waste management infrastructure plays a significant role. Moreover, a lack of public awareness and education about the importance of environmental conservation and the detrimental effects of littering exacerbates the problem. Many Ghanaians may not fully comprehend the long-term consequences of their actions, such as the pollution of water bodies, harm to wildlife, and negative impacts on public health.

Another factor is the cultural mindset towards littering. In some communities, it is customary to discard waste on the streets, considering it the responsibility of street sweepers to clean up. This cultural norm needs to be transformed through education and awareness campaigns.

By changing our consumption and wasting habits we can reduce the problem. Albeit, insufficient waste collection systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and limited access to disposal sites is an important factor that leads to improper disposal of waste, encouraging littering. In other words, we are in a bad spiral that must be stopped.

Effects of littering:

The effects of the littering crisis in Ghana are comprehensive and affects various aspects of the environment, economy, and public health. Littering pollutes rivers, lakes, and oceans, leading to the destruction of aquatic ecosystems and threatens the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal communities.

Litter also chokes drainage systems, aggravating the risk of flooding during heavy rains. The blocked drains pose significant health hazards, as stagnant water becomes breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease-carrying vectors with the most common being the upsurge of malaria.

Furthermore, with Ghana envisioning to be a tourism powerhouse in Africa, Ghana's tourism industry, a vital source of revenue for the country, suffers from the littering crisis. Tourists are often deterred by the sight of littered streets and beaches, impacting the local economy and tarnishing the country's image. An additional problem is the global waste crisis resulting from fast fashion, turnover of electronic waste and more plastic waste than the global community can handle. However, Ghana is one of the main destinations for this waste as well that appears either in our oceans or as clouds of smoke in our cities from the burning of electronics to collect valuable minerals. As we speak, awareness campaigns on these issues in countries responsible for this consumption transition of waste are coming from, pointing to Ghana in particular asking why the government allows this import that enables the industry to continue its take-make-waste strategies rather than forcing them into sustainable circular economic  approaches. Where are our regulators and law enforcement institutions?

According to the World Economic Forum, “not littering” has become part of Japan’s culture where most Japanese have inculcated the habit of carrying their rubbish along with them to their homes rather than dispose of it when out and about. Furthermore, Japan recycles about 77% according to its plastic waste management institute. A report by Opera News revealed Ghana ranks 7th dirtiest country in Africa and 12th dirtiest in the world according to the 2020 Environmental Performance Index.

Way forward-Solutions:

Addressing the littering crisis in Ghana requires a multi-faceted approach involving various stakeholders, including the government, non-governmental organizations, and the public.

Firstly, the government should strengthen Waste Management Systems. Proper waste management practices is an important factor to dissuade littering. Without proper systems  of disposal, the public comes to short, as concerns ways to safely and properly dispose of their waste. The government should ensure competition among waste management companies that are willing to  improve the waste management infrastructure by enhancing waste collection services, establishing recycling facilities, and increasing the number of disposal sites. 

Furthermore, public Awareness Campaigns must be intensified. Education and awareness initiatives are vital to change cultural attitudes and behaviors towards littering. These campaigns should emphasize the environmental, economic, and health consequences of littering, encouraging responsible waste disposal practices. 

Also, intensifying community engagements. Change begins with engaging local communities. Engaging local communities is crucial in combating littering. Community-led clean-up drives, waste segregation initiatives, and the establishment of recycling centers can promote a sense of ownership and responsibility among residents.

As a method of deterrence, the government can enforce existing littering laws more effectively and impose penalties on offenders. This approach will deter potential litterers and create a culture of accountability. For instance, Singapore is known for being one of the cleanest countries due to its strict anti-littering laws. Littering in Singapore faces a fine of $300 and above, accompanied by community cleaning as part of punishment. Undoubtedly, these strict littering/waste legislations are proof of effectively tackling littering. Fines and non-custodial sentences can be meted out to those who flout the rules to serve as deterrent to others. Norway has just increased its price on  plastic bags from about 1GHC to almost 5 - that's an  incentive to reuse the bag several times before throwing  it away, or replacing  it with a reusable carry along bag.

Lastly, combatting this menace also thrives on fostering collaborative efforts and partnerships between the government, NGOs, businesses, and communities. Partnerships can facilitate the implementation of sustainable waste management practices and promote innovation in recycling and waste reduction. The Young Reporter for Environment Ghana program,  through  it´s mother organization center for Sustainable Transformation  (CeST), is a member  of the behavior task force of Ghana NPAP - Ghana's National Plastic Action Partnership, focusing on education  and  awareness amongst other things. Joining  forces at all levels of governance, including  the individual and the  household  is the only way  we  can combat the littering menace in Ghana.

The littering crisis in Ghana poses a severe threat to the environment, public health, and the economy. It demands immediate action from all segments of society to address the root causes and implement sustainable solutions. Government must also prioritize transitioning fully to a circular economy if indeed Ghana wants to tackle the insanitary conditions in the country. The solutions aforementioned, I believe, are a step in the right direction to mitigate the littering crisis and pave the way for a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future.

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