Trash in Ghana
According to the World Bank in 2016, Ghana’s labor force participation rate stood at 76.7%. However, of the 76.7.% of people employed in Ghana, only 26.8% made up wage or salary workers in the same year. In 2021, Ghana’s population stood at approximately 31 million people, but only 13,701 people participated in the labor force. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), in 2021, Ghana produced 1.1 million tons of plastic and just 5% is gathered for recycling. This sparks questions regarding where the remaining amount of trash ends up. For many impoverished people in Ghana, collecting trash is a means of survival. It can create a sustainable income to provide for Ghanaian families. Two organizations are working toward reducing trash in Ghana while providing support or employment.

The Urgency of Employment Opportunities

According to Trading Economics, Ghana noted an unemployment rate of 4.1% in 2019, rising by 0.4% by December 2020.

In 2019, the Ghana Living Standards Survey 7 reported that approximately 2.4 million people, 15 years and older, which represents 21.4% of the employed population, face underemployment. Furthermore, in 2019, the average monthly income of employed Ghanaians stood at GH₵972, which equated to about $128.41 as of May 2022.

For people living in poverty in Ghana, employment is crucial. Collecting trash in Ghana serves as a job opportunity that can allow families to become more financially stable. Two organizations in Ghana offer either income or support to those interested in helping to create a more sustainable version of Ghana, giving them opportunities to rise out of poverty.

Global Alliance of Waste Pickers

In 2005, in the City of São Leopoldo, Brazil, Lucía Fernández, the global wastepicker program coordinator at Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), “had the opportunity to help gather a few leaders of waste pickers’ organizations from four Latin American countries.” This led to the eventual establishment of a network, the Global Alliance of Wastepickers, in 2009. After many years, the organization has spread globally and now serves more than 31 countries, including Ghana.

Its mission includes:

  • Fighting for “the social and economic inclusion of the waste picker population.”
  • Supporting more sustainable methods of reducing waste, such as reusing, recycling and composting.
  • “Sharing knowledge, experience and technology” and advocating for improved laws or policies that affect the global waste picker population.

Currently, three waste picker groups in Ghana are part of the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers. For many Ghanaians, collecting trash is a source of income, which provides them with stable jobs and the ability to provide for their families.

Trashy Bags Africa

In 2007, Stuart Gold, a British entrepreneur visited Accra, Ghana. He witnessed the streets overflowing with plastic sachet bags. These sachet bags allow Ghanaians to drink clean water but leave the roads littered with plastic. Gold saw an opportunity to clean up the trash in Ghana while providing jobs. This gave birth to Trashy Bags Africa.

The Trashy Bags Africa website explains that “Each month nearly 200,000 plastic sachets are collected by a network of commercial enterprises, each obtaining an income from their efforts, now giving value to waste.” The sachet bags are then recycled and turned into various items such as reusable bags, pencil pouches and laptop covers.

Since Trashy Bags Africa began in 2007, it has gathered 15 million plastic sachet bags. Without the help of many Ghanaians, this would have been an impossible feat. Trashy Bags Africa has several goals, such as creating employment through sachet collections, washing of sachets and stitching the sachets into new items.

Trashy Bags Africa even offers to pay Ghanaians to turn in used sachet bags for recycling. A CNN article says that, in 2010, Ghanaians could receive 20 cents for each kilogram of water sachets. As of 2010, Trashy Bags Africa had 60 employees and 100 sachet collectors. “For lots of people collecting sachets is their whole livelihood,” said Gold to CNN.

Thanks to the work of several organizations, impoverished Ghanaian waste pickers are able to make a living, gain recognition and receive support in conducting their activities.

– Kaley Anderson
Photo: Flickr