Independent but waste colonized? An environmental look at Ghana’s 66th independence

Opinion By Eldad Kwaku Ackom, Green Africa Youth Organisation

The Green Africa Youth Organization, as part of its campaign against incineration and plastic pollution, partnered with the All-Africa Students Union (AASU) to march for climate action at Ghana’s 66th Independence anniversary celebration on 06 March 2023. Highlighting the disastrous impact of climate change on the environment and the lives of people, echoing youth’s voices in climate action, and orientating the hearts and minds of the public and elected leaders to act with urgency. This formed part of its national sensitization program for the year and was strategic to reaching various categories of stakeholders and leaders. 

On Independence Day, we reflect on the nation’s progress from the era of colonialism and what lies ahead. Generally, the focus has been on classical areas of Ghanaian History, culture and economy. However, one issue that undermines all the key areas of society deserving attention is the problem of pollution from the endemic plastic lifestyle and widespread open burning.

Contrary to the enthusiasm around independence, developed countries exporting their waste and toxic materials to developing countries like Ghana, mostly in the form of used and often broken equipment, unveils a demeaning form of colonialism which is often overlooked. Waste colonialism is a long-standing issue, typically in the case of Agbogbloshie and other dumps in Accra, climbing to the “enviable” spot of being the world’s largest e-waste dumps and a major health and environmental hazard. 

By 2018, roughly 13,000 tons of plastic waste were imported each month, mainly illegally burned. Meandering through the economy is a quick fix to various needs in society today. Despite government efforts like outlawing the import of electronic waste and working towards a ban on plastic bags, plastic waste litter our beaches, rivers, and streets, endangering the health and well-being of our communities, wildlife and ecosystems. 

It is quite ironic for any country to celebrate 66 years of independence without a robust plan to break free from plastics. 

False solutions like incineration with the alluring energy generation tag have received immense welcome. Even as Governments discuss these, the practice of burning in households, industrial facilities and even hospitals has created a sense of normalcy to the consequences on life and the environment. 

From recent media reports, emissions and airborne pollutants have aggravated respiratory conditions and other health issues. The Ghana health service can attest to the exponential cases and risks of respiratory-related instances linked to the falling ratings of the country on the air quality index.

As a duty to our heritage, we must commit to true independence by prioritizing measures to reduce plastic waste, promoting sustainable consumption patterns, implementing effective homegrown strategies, legislating a clear path to holding corporations accountable and encouraging them to take responsibility for their waste.

We must break the waste colonialism cycle and reject short-sighted solutions like incineration and instead work towards a more sustainable future for all Ghanaians and Africa at large.