The rubbish challenge — Reigniting cleaner city agenda

Rubbish is one issue where there is little need to worry about political incentives. Voters everywhere want rubbish to be taken away. Nobody wants to live near landfill sites and incinerators whether one lives at East Legon or James Town.


As flag bearers and independent candidates are emerging to take up the mantle of leadership of our beloved country, citizens would like to know what plans these candidates have in place to address solid waste menace in the country since the case for taking action is clear.


At the major market centres in the city, one can witness at first hand the extent at which rubbish is being generated through the trading activities that go on at these commercial enclaves. Every social event be it party, wedding or funeral generates piles of detritus scattered all over. Most streets and even the open gutters along them are not sparred of this rubbish menace.

Such waste is not simply unsightly, it also threatens public health. Cholera, respiratory infections and neurological conditions are very common in areas where waste is not regularly collected. Even where it is collected, it can cause environmental problems as waste industries contribute significantly to emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


The rubbish challenge is not peculiar to Ghana. The world in general is producing ever more rubbish than before. Households and businesses took out two billion tons of trash in 2016. The equivalent of 740g each day for every person on the planet. The World Bank predicts the annual hike could grow by 70 per cent by 2050 as the developing world gets richer.

Ghana lacks good waste infrastructure to address its rubbish challenge. Many poorer countries in the world also find themselves in the same situation. One study found out that burning, dumping or discharging rubbish in watercourses caused South Asian countries economies $315 per ton in pollution and disease. Basic disposal systems will cost only $50-$100 per ton. Morocco government reckons the $300 million it has recently invested in sanitary landfills has already averted $440 million in damage. Such spending makes sense even when budgets are tight.

Plastic containers

Of late the country has witnessed several companies producing varieties of beverages in plastic bottles. Along these companies are others that produce food packs with the same plastic materials. After food and drinks from these containers are consumed, their disposal tends to become a problem. During rainy seasons, they are easily seen sailing and dancing to the tunes of rushing waters in open drains and gutters along the streets of the capital city.

If recycle is sufficiently profitable, these plastic wastes would become a valuable commodity. Some would even be dug out from the ground. Three-quarters of all aluminum ever smelted remains in use because there is thriving market for used aluminum cans. But for other materials, recycling isn't just worth it. The hidden cost is what policy makers have to grapple with in the first place.

Somebody must pick out, clean, transport and process junk. Were landfills and incinerators priced to reflect their environmental and social costs, people will throw their rubbish in the gutter or dump it by the roadside instead.

Transparent subsidies for the recycle industries in the country can help a lot. It is better to pay the industry to absorb trash and let the market take care of the rest than to craft cruel rules with unknowable costs such as declaring zero waste to landfill sites as pertains in San Francisco in the US.

Pragmatic policies

Rules to discourage waste should focus on producers rather than consumers. The principle of taxing pollution should be extended to cover makers of things that will need disposing of. A good example is the requirement pioneered in Europe for firms to finance the collection and recycling of electronic waste.

For the environmentalists the case for recycling is obvious. But anyone arguing that reducing physical waste is a moral imperative need to reckon with recycling hidden cost. The ball is now in your court presidential candidate.

Institute of Current Affairs and Diplomacy (ICAD)

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