Ghana: Going from managing waste to a circular economy

At Plastics Recycling World Expo on 3-4 June 2020 in Essen, Germany, a delegation of the Ghanaian plastics and recycling industry will discuss development priorities. In this article, the group’s technical partner in the German federal state North Rhine-Westphalia outlines progress being made in Ghana’s plastics recycling sector. 

Even though the waste collected in Ghana more than doubled nationwide between 2006 and 2013, the share still remains at a low level. According to the Sustainable Development Goals Baseline Report from 2018, even in cities only around one-third of the growing quantities of waste is taken to dumpsites and the few sanitary landfills whose capacities are becoming increasingly scarce. A considerable portion is simply burnt under an open sky. Due to poor solid waste management, plastic waste like sachet water bags, water bottles, food boxes from Styrofoam and any amount of plastic bags is widespread on roadsides, clogging drains and littering beaches, causing health and flood risks.

To turn such challenges into opportunities, the Ghanaian government is determined to leapfrog from waste disposal to a circular economy. In October 2019, as the first African nation, Ghana formally joined the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP), an initiative launched by the World Economic Forum and supported, amongst others, by the Development Programme of the United Nations (UNDP).

Since 2007, the German federal state North Rhine-Westphalia has maintained a partnership with Ghana, bringing together government institutions, universities, local governments, NGOs and companies from both sides. The German technical cooperation, implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), has played a prominent role in shaping the collaboration around climate and resource protection through projects supported financially by the State Chancellery of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Against this background, it was more than logical that GIZ took up the request from the Ghanaian Ministry for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) to develop a project on sustainable management of plastics and to convene an international stakeholder forum in January 2018 in Accra. The main aim: To discuss with competent stakeholders the ministry’s first draft of a national plastics policy and to contribute experience gained in this field in Germany. Looking back, this forum has generated a strong momentum and raised public awareness for the urgency of tackling the challenges related to plastic littering the environment.

As part of the project, GIZ piloted in collaboration with the local NGO Environment360 and with informal scrap dealers in Kumasi an incentive and take-back scheme to test a viable business model for recovering PET bottles littering the environment for recycling. PET bottles were chosen because even the informal waste pickers did not show interest in collecting them due to their volume and low weight. Having successfully tested the scheme, it can now be used for upscaling and including other types of plastics as well.

To make representatives from private and public sector more familiar with the political framework conditions and technical options for managing the plastic value chain in a circular economy, GIZ organized in June 2018 a technical visit for a delegation from Ghana to North Rhine-Westphalia.

On the occasion of WACEE’19, the West African Clean Energy and Environment fair and conference in Accra, MESTI and GIZ convened a second stakeholder forum on 8 November 2019. The aim was to discuss how the different stakeholders are contributing already to recovering and recycling plastics and the challenges they are facing for upscaling: plastic producers, food and beverage industry, recyclers, waste collectors, NGOs, start-ups, and local governments. The challenges plastic recyclers are facing are diverse: they range from plastic material that is not coded or locally recyclable, and extremely high interest rates for financing investments in recycling technology and high import taxes, to poor collection infrastructure and the absence of an extended producer responsibility system.

In spite of these obstacles, the Ghanaian industry is recognising the potential of recycling and is becoming increasingly interested in plastic waste as a secondary raw material. To promote recycling and second-life solutions to reduce the impacts of post-consumption waste on the environment, a group of eight international companies from the chemical as well as food and beverage industry has taken the initiative and founded the Ghana Recycling Initiative by Private Enterprise (GRIPE), established under the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI).

The Plastics Recycling World Exhibition 2020, taking place on 3-4 June 2020 in Essen, Germany, which is Europe’s leading focused event for plastics recycling, provides an excellent opportunity to get to know innovative technological solutions and to establish business contacts. Within the scope of the project, GIZ will therefore invite a delegation of the Ghanaian plastics and recycling industry to the trade-show. For meetings, the delegation will have its own exhibition booth and will be discussing the potential for co-operation in a specific side-event.

Although Ghana has still a long way to go, important steps have been initiated to pave the way towards a circular economy. Progress can even be witnessed at Accra’s beaches where more and more PET bottles are collected for recycling.