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#5 Gold is hidden in the rubbish

Inhabitants of Accra and other big cities in the country know the sight all too well: rubbish is piling up in the streets, plastic bags are clogging the drains and causing floods in the rainy season, and sludge is dumped untreated in the ocean. The insufficient sanitation has serious health implications, including recurrent cholera outbreak in coastal cities.

In 2014, a deadly cholera outbreak in Ghana claimed the lives of some 250 people and infected as many as 25,000 people. Again in 2016, Cape Coast had 737 cholera cases. When Denmark donated cholera beds to the Regional Health Services in Cape Coast, I said “this is a present that I hope you will never use”. This was wishful thinking for cholera prevention is not done by providing beds but by improving general environmental conditions and notably water and sanitation facilities. It is encouraging, though, that during the past year, only nine cholera cases have been reported in Cape Coast and even more encouraging that community efforts to improve sanitation appears to be a main reason.

A clean environment is important for the well-being of all inhabitants and for the most vulnerable citizens, it can be a matter of survival. It is also a condition for attracting more tourists. Despite all Ghana’s  wonderful attractions, as long as the beaches are full of garbage, many tourists will prefer to go elsewhere.

Both photos taken at Bojo Beach, Accra.

The Government has defined it as a top priority to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa by 2020. Important initiatives are being taken to meet the ambition and among these, ensuring real competition among waste collecting companies would seem to be the most important.
In the recent year or so, civil society has become much more aware of the importance of sanitation and in the media, issues relating to waste are topping the daily headlines. A public movement similar to the powerful anti-Galamsey movement may be emerging, which promises well for the possibilities of putting action behind the ambitions.

The political will to change the situation is a precondition for improving the environment, and public engagement and a change of mindset among citizens is equally important. Waste littered around everywhere should not just considered a fact of life but seen as something than can and should be changed.

Denmark and many other countries stand ready to provide the necessary technology to treat sludge, support waste sorting at source, efficiently collect waste, recycle paper, plastic, metal, and glass, and reuse the remaining waste in a way that is both environmentally friendly and can support the production of energy.

Since June 2017, a treatment facility for sludge in Accra with Danish technology has been fully operational. It has the capacity to treat a large share of the total sludge transported by trucks from private households and companies and otherwise dumped untreated into the ocean.
Denmark is among the world leaders in areas such as water technology, waste sorting at source, recycling of waste, and handling dangerous waste through dewatering and sedimentation. Danish companies bring extensive experience from supporting local government in collecting and recycling waste. In the municipality where I lived in Denmark, each household have five waste containers for paper, plastic, metal, glass, and general waste. In addition, we are composting bio waste in the garden. In public recycling centres, citizens are leaving old furniture, carbon boxes, construction material, garden residues, etc. in dedicated containers to allow all waste to be recycled or discarded in an environmentally responsible way. 

Recycling is not just a good idea – it is also good business. Denmark, Sweden and Germany are selling waste to each other to ensure that the full capacity of recycling plants is used, and in Denmark only about 6% of the waste ends up in landfills. Much can be earned from not just dumping waste, and we have a saying that “gold is hidden in the rubbish”. The streets of Accra are shining from gold waiting to be picked up.