SEATTLE, Washington — Ghanaians generate over a million tons of plastic waste each year and only between 2% and 5% of this plastic waste gets properly recycled. Many places within the country lack the infrastructure to safely dispose of plastic waste. The severity of the problems is indicated by the fact that Ghana ranks as one of the top 10 most polluted countries in the world. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has emphasized the urgent need for waste management and plastic pollution in Ghana to be addressed.
The Numbers and the Consequences
Over 2.58 million metric tonnes of raw plastic is imported into Ghana each year and 73% of this ends up as waste. With only up to 5% of plastic waste being recycled, the rest accumulates in the environment or ends up in landfills and nearly 30% ends up in the ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that plastic bottles that end up in the ocean can take up to 450 years to biodegrade. The plastic waste that ends up in landfills contributes to the contamination of groundwater and air pollution. In addition, undisposed plastics can amass in drains and lead to flooding. The stagnant water from pollution-induced flooding facilitates the outbreak of waterborne diseases like malaria and cholera among vulnerable people living in highly polluted areas. Ghanaians also resort to burning their undisposed plastic waste, which releases airborne toxins.
Considering the country’s deficient plastic disposal infrastructure, it comes as no surprise that Ghana is one of the most polluted countries in the world. Still, many nationals remain unaware of the severity and consequences of plastic pollution in Ghana. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) emphasizes that the nation must ameliorate plastic pollution through individual behavioral changes and adjusted attitudes towards waste management. To shift the national waste management paradigm, the UNDP encourages innovative collaboration among the government, experts, civil society and private corporations and organizations.
Recycle Up! Ghana’s Entrepreneurial and Educational Solutions
Recycle Up! Ghana plays a prominent role in assisting to reduce plastic pollution in Ghana. Co-founded by Alhassan Muniro, Torben Fischer, Sampson Oboh and Manuel Schulze out of the German-Ghanaian organization Technology Without Borders, Recycle Up! Ghana helps young people to create and implement locally inspired solutions to plastic pollution in Ghana, in pursuit of an unpolluted world. The organization believes effective solutions to a nation-wide pollution problem come from the ground up. In addition to mobilizing Ghanaians to participate in plastic pollution and waste management education campaigns, the organization creates opportunities for young entrepreneurs in the waste management sector.
Recycle Up! Ghana offers two-week long summer camp programs in Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi for high-school kids developing an interest in waste management. The camp teaches participants about the environmental and health consequences of plastic pollution and offers them the tools to create local solutions and business ideas to address plastic pollution within their communities. From plastic-based fuel to in-school recycling programs that encourage the segregation of sellable wastes, the camp gets kids engaged in the pollution solutions of tomorrow. Additionally, in 2014, the summer camp inspired the development of Recycle Up! Your School, a program that continues today. Recycle Up! Your School operates through student-led recycling clubs in more than 20 schools across Kumasi, Cape Coast, Accra and Togo. Participating students install recycling infrastructure in their schools and educate peers about proper plastic recycling practices. Similarly, the Campus Dustbin Project enlists college students to install proper plastic waste disposal mechanisms on their university campuses and encourages students to help their schools partner with plastic waste purchasers.
For young Ghanaians inspired to enter the sustainable business world, Recycle Up! Ghana hosts a six-month Incubator program that works with participants interested in addressing plastic pollution in Ghana. Through intensive coaching and workshops with experts and like-minded peers, young businesspeople share and develop ideas, then formulate specific plans for building companies committed to cleaning up the local environment. Recycle Up! Ghana also hosts a shorter Startup Weekend event to help young businesspeople network and progress their burgeoning plastic-oriented businesses.
The Future of Plastic Pollution in Ghana
Although currently one of the most polluted countries in the world, Ghana demonstrates commitment to addressing its pollution problem. Organizations like Recycle Up! Ghana has made admirable and extensive efforts to meet these goals by working with the country’s youth to develop solutions to plastic pollution while concomitantly framing waste management as a business opportunity. Together they forge a profitable future in this socially and environmentally impactful sector. These efforts will certainly contribute to a substantially less plastic polluted country in the future ahead.
– Avery Saklad