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Waste Management Options in Ghana, Future Strategy

Waste Management is an essential public service which potentially can have serious impacts on public health and environmental quality in any human settlement.

By ING. Kwabena Agyei Agyepong


Infections related to Water and Sanitation contribute significantly to the Global Disease Burden and are directly related to Goals 6,7 and 11 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Throughout  history  waste management  has always presented  enormous  challenges  to municipal  authorities  in countries  of both the developed and developing  world (Doan,  1998).

The problem constitutes an even greater menace especially  in the rapidly  expanding  cities  of sub-Saharan Africa mainly  due to pressures  of uncontrolled  urbanization , dwindling  space for landfills and the risk to public health is even more pronounced in the developing world where health and sanitation infrastructure is very fragile and largely dysfunctional (Demanya, 2001).

Developing countries often lack the necessary regulations which govern the handling and disposal of waste, and even where they exist, these laws are poorly enforced (UN-Habitat, 1996; Segosebe and Van der Post, 1990).  This view is affirmed by the findings of Stren and White (1998) who investigated waste management in East Africa. The reports of other researchers such us Koffi-Attahi (1999) and Onibokun (1999) clearly depict the deplorable state of waste management  in Africa.

The impact of unbridled urbanization has been so swift that most municipal authorities have been caught unprepared for the mounting demand for improved services. Thus many cities in the developing world have quite simply outgrown the management and financial capacities of their municipal authorities who are unable to cope with the overwhelming rate of waste generation resulting from the chaotic explosion of slum settlements (Agyepong, 2011)

Ghana is a typical  example of a developing country, where waste management  is often  characterized by inadequate  financial  and logistical  arrangements, poor service coverage, operational  inefficiencies, dearth  of skilled  manpower , lack of enforcement  of regulations, and poor cultural  attitudes to waste handling ( Hardoy et al. ,2001, Pacione, 2005). The situation is compounded by the lukewarm attitude of governments in the developing world who hardly recognize environmental sanitation and public health, as issues of national priority against other competing interests on national budgets (Bdour,2009).

Municipal authorities in Ghana operate in resource-constrained environments and are unable to deliver effective and efficient sanitation services as they continue to struggle to implement the measures required to deal with the ever-growing problem of waste (Zubrugg and Ahmed 1999; Asomaning-Boateng and Hiaghtt, 1999).

Current Status of Waste Management in Ghana

Solid wastes comprises all domestic or household refuse, waste from commercial entities and institutions, street sweepings and debris from construction/demolition sites, other industrial waste, sewage sludge and dredged spoils (Cheeseman,2011,UNEP, 1994, 1992; Cointreau-Levine, 1994). Solid waste management is concerned with how the various actors get organized for the collection, transport, treatment/processing and eventual disposal of waste materials (Obirih-Opareh,2001).

Kiely (1997) generally classifies solid waste management as activities associated with the process chain, from the point of generation to its final disposal. The activities  can be  categorized into different stages namely waste production, handling, processing and storage at point of generation, collection, transfer and transport, processing and disposal.

Municipal Solid waste is generated from variable sources depending on human activity. Households generate the bulk (55-80%), followed by Markets and Commercial Areas (10-30%) and the rest from institutions, industries and street sweepings among others.



Waste Generation

The stage of economic development and the level of industrialization generally affects  personal income and consumption patterns which inevitably influences the quantity and quality of  waste generated  (World Bank, 2001). Therefore the socio-economic status of an area determines to a large extent the quantity, variety and composition of solid waste produced. Beukering et al, (1999) illustrates the point by comparing  the  average generation rates on the African continent of 0.78kg/ person/day to the corresponding figure of 1.22 kg/person/day for the developed world.


Meizah et al(2015), showed that waste generation in Ghana ranged from 0.2kg/cap/day to 0.8kg/cap/day across the geographic zones and this lies within the range for most cities in sub-Saharan  Africa (UNEP,2013).  Meizah obtained a national average of 0.51kg/cap/day. The higher socio-economic classes generated more waste, Metropolitan areas 0.68kg/cap/day, Municipalities 0.40kg/cap/day and Districts 0.28kg/cap/day which compares favourably to other studies carried out by  Asase (2011), Abel Acquah (2010) aand Fobil (2005).

Waste Composition and Characteristics

The characteristics of waste determines its biodegradability and significantly influences the selection of the appropriate strategy and technological solution required for any particular location. Therefore for the efficient and sustainable management of solid waste, the physical, biological and chemical properties of the major constituents of the waste generated should be known. However, most available data on solid waste in Ghana are based on crude estimates which are most often unreliable. This shortcoming poses a big challenge to waste managers and city planners alike.

Recent research conducted by Miezah et al (2015) hopefully will complement efforts of earlier studies to determine the appropriate technological options that may be utilised to manage waste efficiently in Ghana. Using the ten regional capitals and the harbour city of Tema as case studies, Meizah et al (2015), undertook waste  stream audits  to gather data  to establish  the current rates of waste  generation  per capita, the composition  and nature of the different  types of waste  produced across  the country. In addition, an analysis of how waste composition and characteristics vary over time and space within the country as well as the willingness to source separate waste at the household level were carried out.

The study recorded high biodegradables (organics and papers) 67%. Food waste formed 79% of this fraction whereas recyclables including plastics, textiles, metals, glass, rubber and leather accounted for 22%, significant enough to sustain a major recycling initiative.


The diagram above clearly illustrate that  findings of earlier studies conducted by Asomaning Boateng & Haightt (1998), AMA (1999), Fobil & Carbo (2005), Abel Acquah Mensah (2010) compare favourably with Meizah et al (2015).

Other researchers on the African continent have obtained similar figures for the organic fraction of solid waste in many African cities (Yhdego 1995; Tanawa et al. 2002). Troschinetz and Mihelcic (2009) reported average organic fraction of 55% which is consistent with the studies carried out by (Blight and Mbande, 1996 ;Achankeng,2003).

Waste Collection and Transport

The current methods being used in Ghana for the storage, collection, transport, treatment, processing and disposal of waste are fraught with problems. Existing practice tend to emphasize collection and transport over treatment and final disposal. A significant portion of the budget of municipal authorities which is expended on waste management, goes into collection and transportation of waste alone.

There are basically  two main types of collection services in place, namely the House to House Collection (H/H) and the Central/ Communal Container Collection (CCC). Conventional waste collection is mainly concentrated in the more affluent high-income areas to the neglect of the densely-populated inner-city locations which make up over 60% of the of the space in the cities (Boadi and Kuitinen, 2003). Individual households and markets have to arrange to convey the waste produced daily to the site of the CCC skips. The modes of transport include donkey carts, three-wheeled tractors, power tillers, tricycles and headloads.

The poor road infrastructure in these low income areas makes it very difficult for conventional waste collection vehicles, subsequently, large amounts of solid waste remain uncollected in the nooks and crannies creating very unhygienic conditions in the already depressed environment.

In recent  times, there has been a trend towards decentralisation and privatization  of  waste management  operations in many cities  of the developing  world in the belief  that more private participation will enhance  cost recovery  and improve  the quality  of service (Post, 1999). Prior to  privatization in 1995, solid waste collection service was a wholly state managed activity. By offloading over 80% of the operations to the private sector, the coverage of waste collection in the major cities has vastly improved (Obirih-Opareh and Post,2002). The same cannot be said for treatment and disposal as the situation remains extremely precarious.


Waste Treatment and Disposal

Landfilling remains the most prevalent waste treatment and disposal method despite carrying the greatest threat to human health in addition to its proven negative impact on the environment. The form of landfill operations implemented in Ghana is much often un-engineered  open pit waste dumping with no leachate control, scant application of cover material, open access to scavenging animals, rodents and other disease vectors (Agyepong, 2011). The high ambient temperatures associated with the tropics tend to speed up biodegradation of  wastes  that inevitably occurs in the many waste dump sites dotted around the country. Landfill gases like methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide which are produced as a result then gradually migrate over time into the atmosphere. This affects the quality of air within the immediate environs exposing residents to fire hazards and other environmental dangers (Mata-Alverez, 2003). Methane is known to contribute 25 times more to global warming than carbon dioxide. In addition, landfill leachate have been known to pollute soil, groundwater, surface water as well as producing other potentially toxic emissions such as dioxin and furan (Calvo et al,2005).

Nevertheless, Landfills are widely used because it is thought to be the most economical and convenient option especially as previously land was readily available. However, pressure on governments due to public anger with the siting of landfills, increasing environmental awareness, scarcity of land among other factors means that waste management authorities must find a way of moving away from landfill practice or at least reduce the waste destined for landfills.

In view of shrinking space available for landfills or open dumpsites, any technology that can significantly reduce waste that would otherwise be destined for disposal in landfills is desirable. Obviously, the way forward for the waste management industry will be to place more emphasis on diverting biodegradable and the recyclable waste fraction away from landfills, using modern innovative treatment techniques. Medina (2004) captures this succinctly by concluding that ‘’when sustainable waste management is achieved in the Third World: jobs are created, poverty is reduced, resources are conserved, pollution is reduced, and the environment is protected”.

Medina’s (2004) view is shared by many policy  makers who argue  that adopting innovative modern conversion technologies can significantly accelerate the effort to reach renewable energy  goals, improve  energy security and also attain the global vision of zero waste (Oduro-Kwarteng, 2007). Therefore recognizing waste as a resource will present enormous economic and environmental potential especially for countries in these impoverished regions as articulated in the UNEP report (2001). The report concludes that ‘the increasing volumes of waste being generated in the developing world would not be such a problem if waste was viewed as a resource and managed properly.’


Future Strategy – Sustainable Waste Management

The concept of Sustainable Development has become the cornerstone of global development policy since the adoption of Agenda 21 in 1992 during the much-heralded Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. Since Rio , increasing  global awareness  of environmental  issues  has caused  a shift in emphasis  of waste  management  from the conventional  linear end-of-pipe solutions  that focuses  mainly  on collection and disposal in landfills,  to a more eco-friendly closed loop  approach that emphasizes the principles of environmental sustainability.

The notion  of ‘sustainable development‘ which highlights  the relationship  between  development  and it’s impact  on the natural  environment, has gained  increasing  global  attention. Sustainable  Development  is a fiercely contested concept  that is frequently fraught with controversy in the literature  on the subject , particularly with regard  to trade-offs  between economic  development  and ecological  considerations (Conway, 1994).

This notwithstanding, governments and municipal authorities around the world are attempting to comply with the changing global environmental regulatory regime by taking the necessary measures to reduce the negative impact of development on the environment eg. Reducing carbon footprint/greenhouse gas emissions.

Various terminologies have been ascribed to the concept of integrated solid waste management in recent years. However, all of them incorporate the same principle which observes the waste hierarchy model.




The model emphasizes waste reduction as the first priority. Thus waste hierarchy typically comprises minimization of waste, waste Reduction, Recycling, Re-use, energy Recovery and eventual disposal in landfills as the least desirable option for solid waste treatment (Girling,2005).

There already exists a large body of research (Almasri and McNeil,2008;Dreschel et al,2002; Furedy,2002; Letzinger,2001; Salifu,2001; Fobil et al,2001) that  shows that resource recovery, recycling and reuse are desirable options with huge economic prospects for the developing world. The potential financial benefits of such an integrated approach to solid waste management in the developing world are still poorly understood and appreciated.

Diagger (2009) also admits that only carefully designed interventions which integrate the principles of waste minimization, reuse, recycling and resource recovery can produce cleaner eco-friendly solutions that will significantly minimize environmental impact as well as protecting public health.

Despite the clear advantages to be derived from the implementation of these environmentally sustainable schemes, only few attempts have been made to embrace them. Currently, policies directed at waste minimization using the 3R’s; Reuse, Recycling and Recovery are somewhat lacking in Ghana as there are no significant public recycling ventures or strategies in place on the national scale.

Troschinetz et al (2009) argues  strongly  that ‘the more environmentally sustainable methods  such as waste to energy schemes , composting of organic  waste, and material recovery  through  recycling, should be the main feature  of future  solid waste programs in the developing  world rather than the use of open waste dump sites’.

Stricter waste acceptance criteria and procedures are being enforced for landfills in the European Union and North America. The European Union(EU) landfill directive stipulates that by 2020, all member states of the EU should achieve a target of 65% reduction of 1995 levels of organic waste to be discharged into landfills  (Cheeseman, 2011).

Solid waste disposal in the Developed World (Cheeseman, 2011).

Waste Research

In Ghana,  research  in the waste management  sector  has been largely  motivated  by a concern for public sector reform  rather than finding  appropriate and sustainable  technological solutions to the mounting problems  of  waste management. Most of the researchers  who have investigated  the waste  sector  have focused  mainly  on waste governance  and a large part of their work have been undertaken from a social  science  perspective.

Demanya  (2009) investigated the role of local knowledge  in solid waste management  in Ghana. Baabereyir (2007) also examined the nature of the solid waste problem in Accra, Kumasi and Sehondi-Takoradi, focusing  on the delivery  of solid waste collection  services across different socio-economic groups in relation to the concepts of social justice  and environmental justice respectively. Nelson Obirih-Opareh and Johan Post (2002) undertook a quality assessment of public and private modes of solid waste collection in Accra, whereas Oduro-Kwarteng (2007) investigated Private Sector Performance, Capacity, and Regulation in Urban Solid Waste Collection in the five major cities of Ghana.

These studies dealt predominantly with the organisational and financial aspects of public –private participation models, and the capacity of State agencies/municipal authorities, private contractors and other actors to perform their respective roles.

From the available literature it is quite clear that not much research has been conducted on the various modern technological options required to properly manage solid waste in sub-Saharan African cities in general and Ghana in particular. The major advancements in waste treatment technologies that have occurred in the developed world have yet to reach sub-Saharan Africa where most of the world’s poor live in deprivation (Caincross and Feachem, 2005).

Cointreau-Levine (2000) revealed in his study on waste management in Ghana that municipal authorities allocate a greater proportion of their waste management budget (50-70%) to merely collecting and transporting  waste rather than committing resources for much needed research and  development of appropriate disposal strategies and treatment technology.

Moreover, according to Asomaning-Boateng (1999), the researchers who have investigated technological options and control strategies have focused almost entirely on composting as perhaps the only viable and sustainable option.

However, attempts at composting on an industrial scale in Dakar (Senegal) and Abidjan( Cote D’ Ivoire) were largely unsuccessful , either due to poor demand for final product or poor quality of the compost arising from inadequate waste segregation(UNEP-IETC,1996). Similarly, small scale schemes sponsored by International NGO’s in Benin, Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa made little impact. Ghana’s experience with regards to large scale mechanized composting has been a monumental failure.

However, the situation may be changing. In 2012, the Jospong Group established the Accra Compost and Recyling Plant(ACARP) with an installed  daily operating capacity of 600 metric tons under a Public Private Partnership (PPP)  with the government to receive, sort and produce high quality organic compost from waste for agricultural purposes in Ghana.

According to the CEO of the facility, Dr. Amponsah , “ACARP operations have since July, 2012 helped to divert over half a million tons of municipal solid waste MSW from landfill sites for material recovery and reuse. Over 70 per cent of the recovered materials such as recyclables have been processed and made available to respective industries as semi-finished raw materials for production,”

Many researchers have argued that because solid waste in developing countries like Ghana have a rather large biodegradable organic fraction, Anaerobic Digestion  (AD) and to a lesser extent incineration  (Combined Heat and Power, CHP) may be the more appropriate and promising  alternatives (Palmowski et al, 2003, Christ et al, 1999; Drecshel and Kunze, 2001 ; Fobil 2001; Asomaning-Boateng and Haightt,1999).

The desirability and potential economic and ecological benefits of anaerobic digestion (AD) technology in particular makes the process an attractive treatment option especially in the developing world environment. By using this option, waste is diverted  from landfill, environmental impact is reduced, nutrients are recovered and recycled  into the soil (Polprasert,  1996 and Wang et al., 2002) and renewable energy is produced thereby reducing carbon footprint (DeBaere, 2000).

Despite these potential advantages, the application of these processes are almost non – existent in Ghana. A possible explanation for this anomaly may be the lack of understanding of the technical aspects of AD and it’s suitability for the handling of the waste stream in the country.

Research into societal and cultural attitudes to waste handling and assessing the impact of public education on the capacity of households to undertake source separation and how that contributes to the efficiency and output of various waste treatment options needs to be intensified. Danso et al (2003) investigated the perception, knowledge and capacity of individual households to carry out source separation of household waste  and found out that 70% – 80% of households sampled  had a generally positive attitude towards the subject.

Fobil et al (2005) suggested that source separation of waste is crucial for the implementation of recycling and resource recovery schemes. Meizah et al (2015) revealed that household compliance level for waste separation at source was impressive. The study recorded a national average sorting and separation efficiency of 84% for biodegradables and 76% for other wastes significantly higher than the 65% obtained by Asase(2011) in a study in Kumasi. Meizah et al (2015) opined that the willingness to separate waste at source was based on the understanding that potentially a cleaner environment will be created. Financial incentives such as fee reduction could be a key motivator for those who were not willing to undertake source separation.

Waste Governance

From available literature, regulations governing environmental and sanitation issues in Ghana are handled by a plethora of state agencies with the ensuing duplication of functions and resulting grey areas which militate against the effective implementation of solid waste management schemes.

Akuffo (1998) observes that legislation related to environmental management in sub-Saharan Africa is usually fragmented into several Acts overseen by different Ministries, for example in Ghana, Public Health Act( Ministry of Health), Town and Country Planning Act(Ministry of Local Government) and Environmental Protection Act (Ministry of Environment) and Water Resources Act( Ministry of Works and Housing).  Akuffo (1998) concludes by blaming the amorphous assemblage of environmental regulations under several different Ministries as a major contributor to the present precarious state of the natural and built environment in Ghana. The situation is worsened by the blatant disregard for planning and building regulations which has made the provision and expansion of waste and sanitation infrastructure even more expensive and extremely difficult to undertake.

Ghana has attempted a coordinated national effort through the National Environmental Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan (NESSAP)   and an accompanying Strategic Environmental Sanitation Investment Plan (SESIP) Policy Framework being implemented by the Ministry of Local Government (MLGRD,2010). Admittedly, progress has been frustratingly slow.

Waste management in the developed world is characterized by a policy of continuous improvement that is premised on the establishment of annual targets that allows the evaluation of system performance on a regular basis.  In Ghana, the main policy framework NESSAP 2010 and does not appear to have such a feature. Hopefully, perhaps the recent designation of a ministry solely responsible for the sanitation sector will hopefully generate the momentum required to stem the decline in the waste management sector.


The journey towards sustainable waste management may be a long one but what the country needs now are gigantic leaps not small steps. Future projections show that by 2025 daily solid waste generation in Accra alone will reach 4,000 tons. The signals are worrying. To move higher up the sanitation ladder, Ghana would have to process most of the biodegradable fraction using waste to energy facilities and recycle more of the inorganic waste fraction thereby reducing the waste that eventually gets landfilled.

Although several studies have established the desirability and potential economic benefits of anaerobic digestion (AD) as the more appropriate Waste to Energy option, the application of the process is rare in Ghana and currently there are only a few anaerobic digesters being operated on a pilot basis. Even in a developed country such as the UK where the organic component of the waste stream is much lower on the average, the application of AD is widespread with over 100 digesters in operation in England alone. AD perhaps offers the most attractive technological option that could significantly transform the waste sector in Ghana and stem the slide into chaos.

Waste management and power generation both present enormous challenges to the country. AD technology can be a secondary source of power generation in addition to reducing the waste that otherwise would have been destined for the landfills.

A future strategy based on a simple sorting and separation of waste at source is recommended for roll out by the MMDA’s. Two waste streams namely biodegradable  waste comprising mainly food waste, kitchen waste, garden waste, agricultural waste designated GREEN and other wastes including plastics, paper, cardboard, packaging, glass, metals, rubber, textiles, leather designated ORANGE should be institutionalized.

In Ghana, not much importance has been attached to public education as a tool for effective implementation of Integrated Solid Waste Management. A systematic and sustained educational campaign is needed to make source separation a part of the waste disposal culture at the household level.

There is no doubt that strong political backing is required. Political authorities should first recognize environmental issues as issues of national priority and create the necessary regulatory environment to attract more private investment into the waste sector as well as allocating the required resources to improve the sanitation infrastructure.

Future strategy must fully embrace the Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) model  coupled with innovative social re-engineering, in order to find permanent solutions to the mounting problems presented by the ever-increasing volumes of waste which appears to have overwhelmed the sector.

The standards achieved by the developed countries are simply unattainable by the developing countries in the short term. However, it is hoped that sooner rather than later Ghana should be able to manage solid waste in a way similar to how the industrialized countries have successfully transformed the waste sector, but for now Ghana most focus its attention on the basics.

Education authorities should develop environmental studies as a core subject of the primary school curriculum teaching children the health implications and the environmental impacts of indiscriminate waste disposal. The benefits to the society and the environment of source separation, recycling and resource recovery should be emphasized. Being in their formative years, their values may be easily influenced thereby ensuring a ‘greener’ future generation.




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ING. KWABENA AGYEI AGYEPONG holds an MSc Degree in Water and Environmental Engineering from the University of Surrey, Guildford, UK. He is a Fellow of the Ghana Institution of Engineering FGhIE, member of the American Society of Civil Engineers MASCE. In Jan 2001, Ing Agyepong was appointed by his Excellency President J. A. Kufuor as the Press Secretary to the President and Presidential Spokesman. 


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