Issue: October 2018, Sustainability – An Export Success? – Environmental protection and human rights: the international dimension
Cooperation across borders
E-waste in Ghana
In Agenda 2030, the international community pledges to reach 17 goals for sustainable development. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address various dimensions of sustainability – social, environmental and economic – and cover topics such as poverty, education, clean energy, and sustainable consumption and production. The Agenda is an appeal for collaboration for the benefit of people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership – areas of critical importance for humanity. In the Oeko-Institut’s view, this global partnership must include working with developing countries and emerging economies on solutions to global challenges, such as sustainable waste management. Since 2009, Oeko-Institut researchers have therefore been engaged in a variety of projects to address the problem of e-waste in Ghana.
“Ghana is one of the African countries that are experiencing very rapid development,” says Andreas Manhart, a Senior Researcher at the Oeko-Institut. “It also offers the right conditions for sustainability projects: it has a democratically elected government, a well-functioning administration and a free press.” However, Ghana also faces major challenges, particularly in relation to waste management (see Interview with Desmond Appiah on p. 3). Conditions during the rainy season are often catastrophic: “During heavy flooding in June 2015, when the drains were blocked by
waste, a fuel leak caused an explosion in the capital Accra, killing at least 150 people,” he recalls. But even without this type of disaster, there are challenges to be faced: “Waste disposal and recycling are largely unregulated and this causes all manner of problems for people and the environment. One example is the incorrect and therefore hazardous recycling of e-waste and batteries.” This is the waste stream which is experiencing the highest growth rates worldwide.
SUSTAINABLE RECYCLING INDUSTRIES
For almost 10 years, the Oeko-Institut has been advising Ghana’s government and administration on managing electric and electronic waste streams and on possible pathways towards improved sustainability. “A great deal has happened in the meantime,” says Andreas Manhart. “For example, in February 2018, Ghana’s Environment Ministry (MESTI) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published Technical Guidelines on Environmentally Sound E-Waste Management in order to achieve continuous improvements in the sector.” The Guidelines were produced as part of the Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) project, which also involved the Oeko-Institut – together with the Ghana National Cleaner Production Centre, the Mountain Research Institute and many other local partners. “The SRI project is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and is designed for developing countries such as Colombia, Peru, India or in this case Ghana,” Andreas Manhart explains. “The aim is to establish sustainable recycling systems in these countries and integrate small and medium-sized facilities. A key element of the project is intensive collaboration with governmental organisations, civil society and the private sector at the local level.” SRI also included training events for auditors and recyclers in Ghana on issues such as plastics recycling and the correct disposal of lead-acid batteries.
The Guidelines, which have now been adopted, define binding minimum requirements for facilities that collect and recycle e-waste. “This is a particularly viable approach because it establishes requirements for recycling facilities that are in line with those that are widely accepted in Europe, but it does not overlook the key role played by informal workers in this context. Many people in Ghana earn a living from basic collection and recycling activities. If they want to register officially as e-waste collectors, the criteria they have to meet are fairly minimal.” For that reason, it is especially important that informal collectors and recyclers are officially recognised as part of the recycling chain, that they benefit from registration – “this is still in the early stages” – and that training activities continue. “Training on types of special waste, such as glass from TV monitors or photovoltaic modules, is very useful. It is also a good idea to set up regular advanced training programmes so that there is no need to call on international experts in future,” says Andreas Manhart.
NO SIMPLE SOLUTIONS
Projects such as SRI highlight the potential for sustainable development in Ghana. However, the Oeko-Institut expert also has a word of caution: there’s still a long way to go. “There are always fly-by-night businessmen who promise supposedly simple and profitable solutions but are actually only interested in selling equipment,” he says. “The inconvenient truth is that waste is mainly a problem, not a gold mine. And good waste management needs additional funding, for example from manufacturers’ levies or waste charges.”
Andreas Manhart’s own projects also aim to improve the bases for sustainable waste management in Ghana. “We are supporting the government of Ghana on this issue and we will continue to be involved in a range of projects. At the same time, it’s important to build civil society capacities, perhaps by providing systematic support for environmental groups,” Andreas Manhart explains. “Sustainable waste management relies on cooperation among all stakeholders – and that’s an insight that is as important for Germany as it is for Ghana.”
One of the targets set for SDG 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns – is to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030.
How can social and environmental standards be guaranteed in highly complex global supply chains? This is a question for Andreas Manhart, who joined the Oeko-Institut’s Sustainable Products and Material Flows Division in 2005. A geographer by training, he works mainly on recycling, raw materials and electrical and electronic goods. Topics include primary production of raw materials in mining and on plantations and the recycling of used batteries and e-waste.
Press release: E-waste in Africa: Risks, challenges and solutions
Further information (in German only)
Blog article: Ghana adopts binding minimum standards for e-waste recycling
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