Plastic bags killed 150 people last month in Accra, Ghana by clogging storm drains and flood gates. Backed up water led to massive flooding. Ninety of the victims died in flames when flood waters carried fuel into a fire. The President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, proposed a ban or tax on plastic bags in response to this tragedy. This might help, but bags are only part of a mountain-sized trash problem that has plagued this seaside city for years.
As Ghana has grown wealthier, plastic trash has increased. The country had Africa’s fastest growing economy in 2011. With more money, Ghanians buy more stuff which becomes more garbage. The soda bottles, food containers, appliances, and plastic bags that line streets are all testament to Ghana’s increased purchasing power.
Waste management, unfortunately, has not kept up. Residents throw their trash into community dumpsters which are emptied by private trash haulers. Garbage spills over before they are emptied. More garbage is dumped in open spaces and ditches, and in a heavy rain all this garbage washes down into the poorer, low-lying neighborhoods which were heavily hit by the deadly flood.
The simple answer to this trash problem is to have more dumpsters and empty them more frequently, but the situation in Accra is more complicated. Garbage trucks can’t reach some of the dumpsters because of poor roads. These roads, usually in the most desperate neighborhoods, damage trucks –making trash pick-up for Ghana’s poorest a risk that truck drivers aren’t willing to take. Trash haulers have also not kept up with the speed which the city of 4 million is sprawling as people from rural areas crowd into Accra’s surrounding slums in search of material wealth.
Wealthy residents pay for curbside garbage pick up and their neighborhoods are usually, but not always, cleaner. Two years ago when the City ran out of landfill space for the almost 2,500 tons of garbage produced each day, their streets were buried in trash too.
Separating and recycling plastic, metal, paper and glass, and composting organic material could slow the flow. There was a recycling and composting facility in Accra, but it closed shortly after it opened due to “unfulfilled financial commitments by the government.” Meanwhile, the government writes action plans then updates and rewrites action plans, but little action actually takes place.
“Accra Is Sitting on a Waste Time Bomb.” Ghana Web. The Weekend Globe, 7 July 2013. Web. 23 June 2015. <www.ghanaweb.com>.
Hinshaw, Drew. “Garbage Trashes Ghana’s Economic Glory.” The Wall Street Journal 22 June 2015, sec. A: 7. Print.
Monney, Isaac. “Ghana’s Solid Waste Management Problems: The Contributing Factors and the Way Forward.” MG Modern Ghana. N.p., 27 May 2014. Web. 23 June 2015. <www.modernghana.com>.