Potential effects of municipal solid waste backlog

By Dr Yahaya Yakubu Introduction THE area of municipal solid waste management remains a daunting challenge in the entire African continent, and Accra in Ghana is not an exception....

By Dr Yahaya Yakubu


THE area of municipal solid waste management remains a daunting challenge in the entire African continent, and Accra in Ghana is not an exception. – Challenges range from indiscriminate disposal in open places, water bodies, poor collection rates, the gap between policy and management, few alternatives to disposal, infrastructural and human resource gaps and poor levels on handling and treatment education. The municipal solid waste management (MSWM) hierarchy (prevention, minimization, materials recovery, incineration, and landfill) has been adopted by both developed and developing countries alike. This has led to most countries achieving lesser waste generation, higher rates of collection and lesser levels of disposal at the landfill

However, waste collection and disposal still presents a major challenge in the capital city of Ghana, Accra. This observation is typical of residential areas where population densities are very high with low income. Improper MSWM results in large quantities of waste being deposited into open areas and sewage drains which results in clogging. Clogging of sewage drains exacerbates drainage and sanitation problems, resulting in subsequent flooding and other attendant pollution problems, which all cause environmental and public health threats.

However, waste collection and disposal still presents a major challenge in the capital city of Ghana, Accra



Sustainable MSWM is a prerequisite for both public health and environmental protection. This is particularly important among the poor, who are susceptible to the effects of poor MSW management.

The World Health Organisation’s report on global malaria prevalence puts the figure at 212 million in 2015, out of which Africa alone accounted for 90 per cent of the total cases and 92 per cent of related deaths. Malaria is among the common communicable diseases that spread easily and is currently the most common communicable disease in Accra. Other diseases include dengue and yellow fever, both of which are associated with poor environmental sanitation and other conditions often associated with extreme poverty. The poor environmental sanitation is also accountable for some cholera cases in certain parts of the city. The reported number of cholera cases in Accra in 2014 was estimated at 2,500 with 45 fatalities (Citifmonline.com 2014). Reports revealed also, that poor environmental sanitation and waste management aggravated the severity of the devastating June 3, 2015 disaster in Accra; the combined damage of the flooding and free explosion from a fuel station at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle resulted in the death of an estimated 154 Ghanaians (ghananewsagency.org 2015).

Population growth, infrastructural expansion and development, increased social activities, and changing lifestyles are key factors in waste generation. High volumes of MSW are a major challenge for cities, which cause both human and environmental problems. Coupled with the increasing waste generation, major challenges of MSWM in Accra include lack of engineered landfills, poor storage (waste bins) and transportation systems, use of old methods, lack of upto-date data and inadequate financial and human resources.

The fundamental challenges with municipal solid waste disposal in Accra is mostly indiscriminate disposal, which is further exacerbated by the challenges with obtaining landfill sites, lack of waste bins for most households, poor financing for waste management, problems with transport of solid waste by road due to worsening vehicle traffic, and the nonexistence of alternative transport options.

Research Findings

The average total MSW generated over the seven-year (2009 to 2015) period was 605,646.01 tons. The total MSW generated in Accra on a per year basis increased from 548,493.34 in 2009 to 679,828.87 in 2015. These corresponded with population figures of 2,311,879 and 2,865,454 for the same years. The population increase showed a strong positive correlation with the increase in the quantity of MSW generated. However, this increase in MSW generation showed a moderate negative correlation with waste collection though no statistical significance could be established. This resulted in the backlog of MSW.

Even though the AMA has tried to ensure that all the waste generated in the municipally is collected, much of it still ends up in public places, drains, and sensitive ecological areas thereby causing public health and environmental problems. An average of 484,302.52 tons of MSW was collected over the study period. The total quantities collected within the study period and sent to ACARP and the landfill sites decreased from 536,777.51 in 2009 to 491,634.64 in 2015. This is because of the longer return travel distance of up to 68km from the central business district of Accra to the landfill sites located at Kpone and Nsumia. In addition, depending on the traffic situation on the road and the queue at the landfill site, it may take up to four hours for a trip. Before the closure of the Achimota dumpsite located very close (12 km) to the central business district in Accra, more waste was collected and disposed of on daily basis. However, as the travel distance increased less is collected and the rest ended up in unauthorized areas.

This further suggests that the more the travel distance to the landfill the more people adapt to illegal dumping of MSW because contractors turn to increase their service charge to cater for their cost of operations. This trend continued until after August 2013 when the quantities of MSW collected started to rise again. This could be due to the construction and operation of a transfer station by ZoomPak in 2014 located at Teshie in Accra. Because the locations of the city’s landfill sites and Accra compost and recycling plant (ACARP) are all on the outskirts, it has resulted in long distance travels for most of the refuse collection companies.

The ACARP started operations in July 2012 and has played a significant role in managing the MSW from Accra. It has a two shift maximum capacity of 600 tons/day. Since it came into the mainstream operation, it has been able to help in the diversion of waste from the landfill, which has aided in the extension of the lifespan of the landfill sites accessible to the city.

From the research findings, ACARP received slightly above eight per cent (118.33 tons/day) in 2012 out of the total MSW collected from Accra in a day. This figure increased appreciably to 33 per cent in 2015 (441.86 tons/day). On average, the facility has received 258.41 tons/day since its inception. ACARP, therefore, serves as a typical intervention that is capable of diverting large quantities of MSW from the landfill and turning it into useful products for the running of the Ghanaian economy. The facility has also provided immediate jobs for the residents of the locality that it is situated and beyond. The compost produced is used to improve soil structure, provide nutrients to crops, lawns, parks, and gardens. Nevertheless, a linear regression analysis based on the total MSW diverted to ACARP since its establishment indicated that by the end of 2017, 598.10 tons/day was to be diverted to the facility. Thus, the maximum tonnage capacity of 600 tons/day of ACARP was expected to be realized by the aforementioned year. Considering the progressive increase in MSW generation and the benefits drawn from composting, expansion of the facility’s capacity and the construction of other similar facilities in Accra are imperative.

Landfilling remained the major MSWM practice in Accra until July 2012 when ACARP started its operations. The estimated average quantity of MSW disposed at landfill sites over the seven-year period is 430,405.38 tons per year. Though landfilling was the major practice of MSWM in Accra before the coming into operation of ACARP, the Achimota dumpsite was very close to the city center and as a result, more of the MSW generated was collected and disposed of.

The total backlog of MSW per year in Accra rose by about 16 times from 2009 (11,715.83 tons) to 2015 (188,194.23 tons) with an average of 121,343.49 tons and peaking at 287,718.74 tons in the year 2013. The backlog of MSW waste in Accra is visible on our beaches, drains, open places and public areas as mini- heaps. This has resulted due to the inability of contractors to provide full coverage for the entire city due to challenges (law enforcement and lack of storage among others). A greater part of the population lives in low-income high-density and middle-income middle-density zones, where waste management services are relatively poor and inert materials, plastics and glass products end up in drains. One obvious effect is drain clogging that consequently leads to flooding after a heavy downpour.