Solid waste management is one of the greatest challenges facing urban centres in the world especially rapidly growing ones like Accra the capital city of Ghana. Despite the numerous interventions by various governments all over the world to address the situation, the challenges still lingers on.
Waste according to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) is defined as “materials that are not prime products for which the generator has no further use in terms of his or her own purposes of production, transformation, or consumption and of which he or she wants to dispose and may be generated during the extraction of raw materials, processing of raw materials into intermediate and final products, the consumption of final products, and other human activities."
Increase in population and per capita income as well as technological and economic advancement can be attributed to the enormous volumes of solid waste generated and its diversity respectively.
The high demand for plastics and rubber products, which are mostly non-biodegradable, compounds the situation with excess waste which poses both health and economic challenges to the society. Plastics and polythene bags blights every corner of our environment, on streets, in drains, along the beaches among others.
As the economic and administrative centre of Ghana, Accra's strategic geographical location has positioned it as an important destination point for trading and as a result the city generates about 3000 metric tons of solid waste daily with approximately 0.5 kilograms generation rate per person per day.
These generation rates according to the World Bank are set to "more than double over the next 20 years, and the cost of clearing is expected to increase at least four fold." The point is once waste generation is inevitable to humans, it has become mandatory to examine the waste chain right from generation to disposal, in order to identify challenges and sustainably address them accordingly to avoid pollution and promote good health.
But the big question is, how can we as a people free ourselves from this escalating volumes of filth we generate and its adverse effects?
The answer is simply, a change in our daily lifestyles to minimise the amount of solid waste we generate as a people by adopting the Waste Hierarchy strategy. This model also known as the 3R's basically comprises waste reduction, re-use as well as recycling and eventual disposal in landfills as the least desirable option for solid waste treatment.
In as much as huge capital investment is required to improve solid waste management in Accra, social and behavioural factors play a major role towards its achievement. Consciously accepting to reduce what we generate as residents of Accra is the logical starting point for sustainable solid waste management.
Accra like many African cities generate about 65% organic waste, 14% plastic, glass and metal waste and less than 1% paper waste per day of which are sent to the landfill hence the most effective and efficient way to reduce your household waste is to first and foremost examine the quantity of what you want to consume, to avoid left over.
Since the majority of waste generated are mostly organic composting this putrescible (liable to decay) part of the wastes into fertilizer which can be used in our backyard gardens will go a long way to reduce the waste being disposed of.
Furthermore the use of plastic products over other materials like paper, glass, cardboards, have become the bane of urban sanitation rather than a blessing.
In Accra the increase in plastic use can be attributed greatly to urbanization and industrialization and its characteristics are precisely what have made them environmental nuisance.
It is estimated that over 90% of about the country’s 40 plastic industries producing more than 26,000 metric tons of assorted plastic products are located in the Accra and Tema Metropolis. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about 10,000 metric tons of finished plastic products are also imported into the country annually, however using multi-use items are essential to waste reduction.
It is often environmentally friendly to use reusable bags for all your shopping needs rather than go empty handed likewise avoiding products wrapped in plastic or excessively packaged. The simple trick is to say no to packaging when possible. Go shopping with your own reusable cloth bags instead of accepting plastic bags from the store, just avoid buying items that are over-packaged with foil, paper, and plastic.
Shopping without your own bags encourages production of more plastic bags into the system, wastes your resources to dispose them off and creates more waste than you can imagine. Always remember to carry your own containers while ordering take away food as well.
Adopting this strategy will greatly reduce the amount of waste you bring home. If you forget to bring your own cloth bags to the store, you can still reduce waste! Ask the attendant bagging your groceries not to use double bags. Using cloth bags isn't limited to grocery shopping so take one along when you go shopping for clothes, tools, or any other items you may need.
Learning to reuse items, or re-purposing them for a different than what they are intended for is essential in the waste hierarchy.
Considering a city that generates about 65% organic waste, composting leftover foods would go a long way to reduce the volume of waste to be dumped. Why? Because leftover foods such as vegetable and fruit waste, meal leftovers, tea bags, stale bread, grains, and general refrigerator spoilage are an everyday occurrence in most households.
Trying home composting of food waste, for instance composting leftover foods into fertilizers can make a big difference. You do not have to throw away leftover food , instead you can compost them and turn them into rich, nutritious soil that can be used to nourish your garden.
This notwithstanding with standing, it is important to note that not all food waste is recommended for composting. Solid waste that can be composted includes your vegetable and fruit wastes, anything made out of flour! Grains (cooked or uncooked) as well as left over foods.
Any household, anywhere, can compost its food waste, all you need is the willingness and planning.
The final process of the waste hierarchy is to recycle. To recycle waste is to transform waste into a raw material that can be shaped into a new product and this ensures a cleaner environment.
It is estimated that about 80 percent of all household waste can be recycled. It only requires the willingness to separate waste at source in order to facilitate an effective recycling process.
However there are several ways to recycle your household waste. You can sell especially plastics (bottles and used water sachet) to recycling facilities and middlemen and for your organic waste, you may choose to compost it yourself as has been discussed earlier.
The sustainable management of waste is the way to go and for Accra to move higher up the sanitation ladder , residents must adopt these simple ways help reduce the waste they generate and recycle more of the organic and inorganic waste in order to reduce the waste that eventually gets landfilled.