The Plastic Waste Business In Ghana, How Far?

plastic wasteIt all started in 2005 on a note of fright from the sachet water producers who were worried about the survival of their businesses. The then mayor of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Mr. Stanley Nii Adjiri Blankson had threatened that he was going to ban the sale and distribution of sachet water within the Accra metropolis. The sachet water producers realising the possible effect of such a move on their various businesses nationwide felt the need to initiate an effective system of dealing with the sachet water waste that has engulfed the country.

There are different types of plastics waste in the Ghanaian solid waste stream. The predominant types include the High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) resin, a recyclable plastic, used to produce bottles for milk and other beverages. HDPE plastic resin also can be used to make bottle and container caps and flexible plastic packaging such as sacks and trash bags.  A typical example of this type of plastic is the sachet water packaging and the black carrier bags used in packaging almost everything including cash in the banks.

Polyethylene terephthalate (P.E.T) is also recyclable plastic resin used to make bottles for water and other soft drinks and other household and consumer products.  P.E.T also is used for film, oven trays, sheeting for cups and food trays, and other plastic packaging.

The National Plastic Waste Management Task Force set up under the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the year 2006, sought to place value on the sachet water waste so that individuals could see the sachet water waste as a commodity. Since the composition of the taskforce was highly dominated by the private sector, this approach was to be expected. Direct reference was made to the scrap metal trade which had caught on very well in Ghana. The taskforce launched a sensitisation cum cleanup campaign which was dubbed Operation Chase the Plastic Waste. The focus of this campaign was to create awareness among Ghanaians that the plastic is a commodity which could be sold for money.

The first individual who started paying for the plastic waste is a Ghanaian resident in United States of America. He bought the waste, which he baled and exported to China. Even though the price he was buying the waste from the collectors at the time was not meeting the price at which  they bought the waste from the streets, the then task force topped up to ensure that the collectors stayed in business. This arrangement persisted for over two years until the introduction of recycling machines into the country. The strategy of commercialising the plastic waste really worked as some of the plastic manufacturing companies gradually imported recycling machines into the country to recycle the waste into pellets for sale back to the industry. These developments were fuelled by the fact that the price of crude oil at the world market had reached its record high, making recycling much more profitable.

The introduction of recycling machines into the country at the time by some business interests brought in some competition among the recyclers since the collectors sold their waste to the highest bidder.  There was then market for the sachet water waste collected by individuals from the streets. The taskforce then publicised the business through the mass media, and face to face interaction with the general public, in churches, schools and other social platforms. Young entrepreneurs were encouraged to enter the plastic waste trade. Even though these groups were initially supported because the price at which they bought the waste from the minor collectors did not match how much they sold the waste to the recyclers. This was not to last very long as the value of the sachet water waste made some gains on the market.

Many more plastic waste collectors entered the business. Initial support came from Enterpriseworks Ghana, a USAID non-governmental organisation which sought to assist some of the entrepreneurs in running the collection points (Buy back centers) which they have been assigned by the plastic waste taskforce. This initial support proved quite useful as the assistance boosted the business of some of these collectors.  This NGO also supported schools and churches to do some kind of separation by donating specialised litter bins which was to be used for collection of plastics only. Other educational materials such as posters and brochures were developed to encourage the separation of plastics for sale (the path of separation of waste will be treated in another article).

The attempt to turn the plastic waste into a profitable commodity had succeeded since the plastic waste collectors were no more subsidised by the taskforce. Many more recycling companies kept joining the train. As at the time of this write up, there could be over twenty recycling companies in Accra and Tema, not to mention others in Kumasi and other big cities in the country.  The recycling companies in Accra and Kumasi have a total recycling capacity of about one hundred and ten tonnes. One could imagine the level of direct and indirect employment opportunities these recycling companies are presently providing to the ordinary Ghanaian. This has also increased the number of collectors greatly. In Accra alone, there could be over three hundred and fifty major collectors with over four thousand minor collectors. A visit to some of the collectors by this writer indicated that some old ladies who do not have any source of income have also resorted to collecting plastic waste on the streets,  and selling since they do not require any capital investment before they could start the business. Some of the minor collectors are earning about five hundred Ghana Cedis a month. Meanwhile these minor collectors do not spend the whole day collecting from the streets. Some of them go out in the mornings while others go out late afternoon.

The major collectors reach out to the minor collectors. They drive around with their trucks and buy the waste from the minor collectors. When they have a truckload of the waste, they transport to the recycling companies. They make their profit from the margin they gain from price of the minor collectors. The major collectors buy the waste at half the price they sell to the recycling companies. After deducting their cost of transport and labour, the balance becomes their profit. An interesting point to note is that most of the major collectors started as minor collectors. Some of these major collectors own about three to four trucks which they use in transporting the waste to the recycling companies.  One of the collectors has been able to buy a recycling machine with the capacity to recycle about one ton of waste a day.  The major collectors have a turnover of between GH¢2,000 to GH¢6,000 a month. A few of them have secured credit facilities from financial institutions which they are servicing regularly. This means that the business is profitable. Despite these gains, some of the plastic waste still ends up in the gutters and on the landfill sites. One could still see the plastic waste on the beaches and in the seas. This means that there is much more work to be done by the collectors and the recyclers.

Another source of sachet water waste and other types of plastic waste is the factory waste. This kind of waste is generated from the production process. The plastic manufacturing companies generate some amount of plastic waste, and the sachet water producers also generate some volumes of waste, while other companies in the soft drink industry also generate some amount of plastic waste in the factory. Some of these companies are selling their waste to either individuals or recyclers.

The recycling companies, some of whom are plastic manufacturing companies, either sell the pellets generated from the recycling to other plastic manufacturing companies or use it in their own factories. The recycled pellets are presently selling between GH¢2,000 and GH¢2,700 depending on the quality or fineness regarding contamination levels.

It is also interesting to note that with the exception of about four Ghanaians who are recycling plastic waste in very minor capacities, the major part of the recycling industry are dominated by foreigners, including Indians, Lebanese and Chinese. Though it is not a bad idea for foreigners to take up the business, it will be much better if young Ghanaians get involved at this present state.

The major and minor plastic waste collectors have grouped into associations to negotiate for better prices from the recyclers as well as bring sanity into the business, and solicit the assistance, and intervention of government and donor agencies to expand the industry.

Since waste management is a public good, there is the need for government and the district assemblies to be interested in what is happening in the plastic waste management sector. For example what kinds of standards are the recyclers and the collectors operating by?  What kinds of materials are being recycled and what kinds of the products are being produced from the recycled pellets. These are concerns that has to be addressed.

Tracing from its humble beginnings and the heights the plastic waste business has attained in giving employment to many Ghanaians, it is clear that it has the potential of being a very energetic sector that could contribute immensely to the economy of Ghana. The crucial point worth noting is the fact that the plastic waste business will not only generate income for many Ghanaians but it will solve very teething problems of our gutters being choked and our beautiful beaches being polluted. It will also stop the carnage in the seas and the destruction of vegetation and livestock. Feature by the Accra Plastic Waste Management Project.

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