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Feature Article of Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Columnist: Thompson, Kofi

Ghana: Modern Waste-To-Energy Plants

- A Viable Alternative To Landfill Sites?

By Kofi Thompson

The recent public outcry over the ghastly odour emanating from the Achimota landfill site for the dumping of household and industrial waste generated in the city of Accra, illustrates perfectly the huge Nimby (not in my back yard) problem facing local authorities nationwide, over the siting of landfill sites.

For many city residents in Accra - and elsewhere in urban Ghana - landfill sites are usually out of sight: and therefore out of mind.

It is usually those who live near them in places like Achimota, Oblogo and Gbawe, who have to worry about the health implications of being near them.

Yet, landfill sites pose a long-term health risk to all Ghanaians - because the leaking of toxic substances into the soil eventually contaminates the water-table.

Simply put, landfill sites in Ghana - which are not properly supervised in a scientific sense by local authorities - are a real and present danger: health-wise and environmentally.

The fact of the matter, is that local authorities simply lack the resources - trained expertise and the wherewithal - to supervise them effectively.

Luckily, however, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDA) are moving closer to being able to raise money for projects independently, by being allowed to float municipal bonds.

That will be possible when a new law for that purpose is finally passed sometime this year. It will be a real boon for Ghana's cash-strapped MMDA's.

If our ruling elites do some lateral thinking, the new law should present them with an opportunity for a more creative approach to dealing with waste disposal in Ghana.

In that regard, one humbly suggests that the next Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, together with a number of Chief Executives of key MMDA's from around the country, undertake a working-trip to Denmark, to take a look at their modern waste-to-energy plants - and see how they operate and manage them.

Obtaining finance through the floating of municipal bonds to build waste-to-energy plants, makes financial sense for Ghana's MMDA's - which can generate revenue from selling some of the power generated by their waste-to-energy plants to the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG).

A long-term off-take agreement to supply power to the ECG will reassure buyers of those bonds - as a steady cash flow for those stand-alone projects will be guaranteed.

The building of those waste-to-energy plants could be attractive private-public partnership opportunities for some in the Ghanaian diaspora too, perhaps.

Switching from landfill sites to waste-to-energy plants as a means of waste disposal in Ghana, will also abate the occurrence of incidents of egregious examples of local pollution - such as the noxious smell that those living near landfill sites in places like Achimota sometimes have to contend with on a daily basis.

It will definitely be a welcome relief to all when a majority of landfill sites around Ghana are closed for good.

As it happens, compared to conventional incinerators, today's cutting-edge waste-to-energy plants, such as those in use in Denmark, are a great deal cleaner environmentally.

They are equipped with multiple filters to catch pollutants ranging from dioxin to mercury - that only ten years ago would have been released into the air from the chimneys of such renewable energy plants.

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There will also be less greenhouse gas emissions, such as the carbon dioxide and methane generated by landfill sites in Ghana, when we switch to waste-to-energy plants - and finally close down most of the landfill sites around the country.

By grouping together, MMDA's in all the ten regions of Ghana can generate the minimum tonnage of household and industrial waste required daily, to feed waste-to-energy plants that they can also jointly own.

Small and medium-sized modern waste-to-energy plants such as some of those in use in Denmark, Germany and Holland are definitely a viable and sustainable alternative to landfill sites for the disposal of household and industrial waste in Ghana. A word to the wise.

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Email: peakofi.thompson@gmail.com

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