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Opinions of Monday, 19 October 2015

Columnist: Frederik Sundby-Lebech

Ghana in the eyes of a foreigner - the refuse eyesore

Opinion Opinion

Since my arrival in Ghana from Denmark, I have noticed many differences between the two countries.

Though there are many differences from region to region and from city to city, one common phenomenon strikes me. It doesn’t matter whether I am in a remote village or in the pulsating capital, Accra — the soil under my feet is always decorated with a colourful but putrid mixture of plastic, old food and other indefinable objects.

Rubbish, garbage, litter – no matter what name is used – is not a pleasant thing to handle or walk through.

Of course, rubbish is an inevitable bi-product of any person’s consumption and therefore it is even more important to be conscious of what we are doing with it.
Throwing litter into the gutters blocks pipes and causes flooding of dirty putrid liquid on the streets.

Apart from that, I have seen livestock of many kinds — chickens, goats, sheep — eating from the gutters and from piles of rubbish. That would not be a problem if the garbage was “clean” so to speak. That is if the animals’ diet only consisted of food waste.

But the rubbish on the streets and in the gutters is contaminated with plastic and chemical waste, which causes a serious health hazard for both the animals and the people eating those animals. When the animals eat toxic waste and we eat the animals we get contaminated with our own dirty rubbish.

Likewise the rubbish on the coast and in the waters of Ghana is contaminating the marine ecosystems and the fishing areas of the country’s fishermen.
I have noticed that a very common way Ghanaians deal with accumulated amounts of litter is to burn it, but I see that as a big waste of energy and far from the best solution.

With the right political and commercial attitude, the burning of rubbish could be a solution to the notorious national annoyance, the power outages (dumsor).
The construction of incineration plants and establishing a waste collection system is a long-term solution, which could create many jobs and improve the general livelihoods of the country significantly.

Apart from that, recycling of waste is a big business in other parts of the world, where companies make big profits mainly because rubbish used as the production materials is free.

Recycled tin foil can be used to make a laptop, recycled plastic milk jugs can be made into toy cars for children — the examples are many and the only limit of recycling is our own imagination.

Sorting and recycling rubbish is the most sustainable way to deal with the ever-growing piles in the streets, fields and coasts of Ghana.

The key towards such a change is political will and a conscious collaborative action by responsible Ghanaians who care about their country.

I believe that it is possible and necessary to take action on this refuse issue which seems like a dirty national habit in the eyes of a foreigner.