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Unsustainable urbanization in Ghana has resulted in poor environmental conditions in
urban settlements in the country. Solid waste disposal, in particular, has become a
daunting task for the municipal authorities who seem to lack the capacity to tackle the
mounting waste situation.

This study investigates the nature of the solid waste problem in two Ghanaian cities,
Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi. It describes the waste situation in the study areas and
identifies the causes of the problem from the perspective of key stakeholders in the
waste sector. The delivery of solid waste collection services across different socio-
economic groups of the urban population and the siting of waste disposal facilities are
also examined in relation to the concepts of social justice and environmental justice

For the empirical investigation, a mixed methodology was used which combined
questionnaire and interview data from stakeholders in the waste sector, together with
documentary and observational data, to examine the issue of solid waste disposal in
the two study sites. The key issues identified by the study include: that Ghanaian
cities are experiencing worsening solid waste situations but the municipal
governments lack the capacities in terms of financial, logistical and human resources
to cope with the situation; that while several causes of the urban waste crisis can be
identified, the lack of political commitment to urban environmental management is
the root cause of the worsening solid waste situation in Ghanaian cities; and that
social and environmental injustices are being perpetuated against the poor in the
delivery of waste collection services and the siting of waste disposal facilities in
Ghanaian cities. Based on these findings, it has been argued that the solution to the
worsening environmental conditions in Ghanaian cities lies in the prioritization of
urban environmental management and commitment of Ghana’s political leadership to
urban settlement development and management.

                                    CHAPTER ONE

1.0. Introduction
Urbanisation is a complex phenomenon that provides opportunities and benefits for
countries but also associated with the process are problems of social, economic and
environmental nature. In countries around the world, one major environmental
problem that confronts municipal authorities is solid waste disposal. As observed by
Pacione (2005:111):

       “Most city governments are confronted by mounting problems regarding the
       collection and disposal of solid waste. In high-income countries, the problems usually
       centre on the difficulties and high cost of disposing of the large volume of waste
       generated by households and businesses. In lower-income countries, the main
       problems are related to collection, with between one-third and one-half of all solid
       waste generated in Third World cities remaining uncollected” (Pacione, 2005:611).

Today, municipal solid waste collection and disposal are particularly problematic in
developing country cities, but many Western cities have also grappled with this
problem in the past (and some probably still do). In his book Rubbish, Girling has
observed that before the 20th century, many cities in Europe “drowned in a sea of
garbage” with most of their municipal solid waste being dumped into rivers and open
sewers. Municipal waste services were then poor and rivers like the Rhine and
Thames were nothing more than open sewers as they were heavily polluted with
waste and were major sources of infectious diseases (Girling, 2005:10). In 1741, Lord
Tycornnel, for example, denounced the:

       “neglect of cleanliness of which, perhaps, no part of the world affords more proof
       than the streets of London, a city famous for wealth, commerce and plenty and for
       every other kind of civility and politeness; but which abounds with such heaps of filth
       as a savage would look on with amazement”

                                                     (cited in Girling, 2005:10)

In other English cities such as Liverpool and Northampton, “the 1750s brought
complaints of dung heaps in the streets” (Girling, 2005:10). Elsewhere in Europe the

situation was not different. In Germany, Bilitewski et al. (1997) note that many cities
struggled with waste disposal and the Rhine River was heavily polluted with
industrial and municipal waste. These examples show that urban waste disposal is not
just a new challenge but one that has always confronted poor cities.

Nowadays, Western countries generally rely on land filling to overcome the problem
of waste accumulation (Girling, 2005; Pacione, 2005). The landfill seems to have a
special attraction for municipal waste managers because it offers a cheap and
convenient option for waste disposal compared with other strategies such as reuse,
recycling and energy recovery (Charzan, 2002). In fact, with the exception of few
countries like Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark who recycle substantial
proportions of their waste, most countries in Europe and North America still dump the
bulk of their municipal solid waste in landfills (OECD, 2000; Girling, 2005). Thus,
the current requirement for countries to move up the waste hierarchy1 remains a real
challenge for even the rich and technologically advanced countries (OECD, 2000).

Recent developments, however, seem to suggest that burying waste in landfills is not
a sustainable solution to the mounting solid waste problem. Due to a number of
factors (including rising concerns about the polluting effects of landfills, NIMBY2
protests and shortage of landfill space), land space for land filling is becoming
increasingly scarce and difficult to acquire. By the mid-1990s, for example, half of the
one million tonnes of solid waste generated by Central Londoners were being
transported more than 64 km to be dumped because landfill space within the Central
London area had been exhausted (Kwawe, 1995). Recently, in May, 2008, the lack of
waste disposal land created mayhem in the Italian city of Naples when the streets
became laden with waste, blocking traffic and causing nuisance and hazards. In an
online article titled Waste erupts in Naples, this is how ‘WasteAge’ reported it

        “Left with no place to dispose of its trash, Naples has been bombarded by
        overflowing trash bins and tons of smelly refuse. The stench and public health
        problem has literally created mayhem. … the city's landfills reached their limits, and
        neighbouring communities refused to take the Neapolitans' garbage. Short of options,
        city trash began piling up” (WasteAge, 2008: online).

  The various strategies of waste management arranged in order of environmental friendliness with
waste prevention at the top, followed by minimisation, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and disposal
  Not In My Backyard


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