the magnitude of the problem

overview of current situation

uncontrolled dumping of refuse

controlled dumping

sanitary landfilling



key knowledge gaps


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WELL FACTSHEET - Regional Annex

Solid Waste Disposal in Ghana

Author: Anthony Mensah and Eugene Larbi,  November 2005

Quality Assurance:  Andrew Cotton


This fact sheet seeks to assess the solid waste disposal (SWD) situation in Ghana and to identify prospects for improvement focusing on remediation of dumpsites and sanitary landfills. The  key problems with solid waste disposal in Ghana principally relate to: 

  • Problems with indiscriminate dumping;

  • Increasing difficulties with acquiring suitable disposal sites;

  • Difficulties with conveyance of solid waste by road due to worsening traffic problems and the lack of alternative transport options; and

  • The weak demand for composting as an option for waste treatment and disposal. 

Generally the poor state of waste management is clearly not only an engineering problem. Rapid urbanization, poor financing capacity of local authorities, low technical capacity for planning and management of solid waste, weak enforcement of environmental regulations - which allow local authorities to flout environmental regulations without any sanctions - have all contributed to compound the problem. The Ghanaian experience shows that within the existing socio-economic context, manual systems are appropriate. The challenge therefore is to develop and promote disposal systems that require a minimum level of mechanical equipment. 

The Magnitude of the Problem

The disposal of solid waste has always been an intractable problem throughout Ghana.  Landfills in Ghana are primarily open dumps without leachate or gas recovery systems. Several are located in ecological or hydrologically sensitive areas. They are generally operated below the recommended standards of sanitary practice. Municipal budgetary allocations for operation and maintenance are  inadequate. The result is substandard and unsafe facilities which pose public health risks and aesthetic burdens to the citizens they are meant to serve.  It is estimated that throughout the country only about 10% of solid wastes generated are properly disposed of.

In the last few years problems with solid waste disposal have assumed increased prominence as a political issue especially in  urban areas.  The dismissal of a mayor of the capital city (Accra) in 2002, was largely attributed to his inability to deal with the problems of waste management.

Based on an estimated population of 18 million and an average daily waste generation per capita of 0.45 kg, Ghana generates annually about 3.0 million tons of solid waste. Accra, the capital, and Kumasi, the second city, with a combined population of about 4 million and a floating population of about 2.5 million generate over 3,000 tons of solid waste daily. Almost all the collected quantities of wastes in Ghana depend on the “waste sink” function of the environment for assimilation.

Overview of Current Situation

In recent years several large foreign loans have been secured to help tackle the problems of environmental sanitation. Ghana’s first sanitary landfill facilities were recently commissioned in the 4 largest towns in the country – Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi-Takoradi and Tamale - between 2003 and 2004. In smaller towns and rural areas the issue of solid waste disposal has never really been a priority issue. Few districts are known to invest in the development of solid waste disposal sites.

Generally conditions of waste disposal in Ghana are similar to those in many developing countries within the tropical climates. The overwhelming majority of landfills in Ghana are open dumps even though these are strongly discouraged in the national sanitation policy. The problems associated with open dumping are briefly described  below.  The most feasible options for SWD  are: 

  • Controlled dumping,

  • Sanitary land filling,

  • Composting, and

  • Incineration

Complex systems for waste disposal that  are coupled with energy recovery such as gasification and pyrolysis are not considered to be financially and technically sustainable in Ghana and arel thus not considered. 

Uncontrolled Dumping of Refuse

Open refuse dumps are most commonly located at the perimeter of major urban centres in open lots, wetland areas, or next to surface water sources. Open dumps are generally sited based on considerations of access  for collection vehicles rather than hydrological or public health considerations. In rural areas and small towns, there are often no vehicles for collection hence uncontrolled dumping occurs within the built up areas - with all its attendant health hazards and negative environmental impact.

The recent proliferation of plastic bags for packaging has seriously aggravated the negative impact of uncontrolled dumping creating very unsightly conditions.

Generally, the widespread prevalence of uncontrolled dumping reflects the weak capacity of districts and municipalities, and given the lack of resources for dealing with the problem, it is likely that for hundreds of small towns and villages, this option will continue as the only option for SWD in the medium to long-term. The key challenge for local authorities therefore relates to how to upgrade the numerous uncontrolled dumping grounds in order to ensure some semblance of order and hygiene in uncontrolled dumpsites using manual labour.

Controlled Dumping

The sanitation policy recommends controlled dumping with cover as the preferred option for all small towns and rural areas. In practice however, there are few good examples. In most communities controlled dumping sites are located on river banks and in depressed areas such as in borrow pits, surface mining areas, ravines, old quarries and valleys. Generally the standard of operation and maintenance on these landfills is inadequate. There  is often no mechanical equipment for spreading and compaction of waste which means little reduction in waste volumes. Fly and rodent control are often neglected and there are serious problems with littering. Few district assemblies (DAs) can afford to haul the required inert cover materials to disposal sites. Various trials have been made with use of industrial wastes such as shavings from timber sawmills (which are abundant in most urban areas) for this purpose but research in this area is still scanty and the extent of suitability  is not well documented.  With low central government budgets and weak capacity for internally generating funds, most DAs find sustained operation of controlled landfill sites a real burden. However, there is a real need for improvement in current levels of operations and in the design and siting of new facilities to ameliorate current levels of environmental degradation.

Sanitary Landfilling

This option is the recommended choice for solid waste disposal for the metropolitan and municipal areas (comprising about 10 cities with populations over 200,000). Landfilling is considered the most feasible option from the point of view of costs and level of environmental impact. However experiences with landfill sites that meet engineering requirements in Ghana are few. Indeed, the first set of landfill projects have only been recently commissioned in 4 key metropolitan areas. These projects were mostly sponsored by external donors including the World Bank and DFID.  All the new landfill sites were designed and developed with technical assistance from foreign consultants. Generally the trend has been to develop solid waste disposal sites alongside waste stabilization pond based treatment systems for liquid wastes.  However none of the recently completed sites has operated for long. It remains to be seen whether the beneficiary cash-strapped Metropolitan


Generally conditions in Ghana are very conducive for composting in terms of the waste composition and weather conditions. However composting has never flourished as an option for refuse treatment and disposal. Most local authorities feel, based on local experience, that the running costs of composting plants are excessive and unjustifiable.

 Box 1: The experience of a local NGO

The Ghana Organic Agriculture Network (GOAN) has promoted compost as an option for solid waste management. The experience of GOAN has shown that: technically, there are good prospects for sustainable operation of compost plants.  The plant designs involve simple screening and maturing - that can be operated by community groups or private sector.  Though a growing horticulture industry has generated some demand for compost the operations of GOAN confirm the long held view that there is low demand for compost and financial sustainability for composting is difficult to attain. The problems with financial sustainability are attributed to: (i) lack of awareness about the soil-enriching benefits of compost which means there is little demand for compost, and (ii) lack of support from the key agencies who could do most to promote it, ie The Ministry of Local Government (who are responsible for waste management) and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA).

The only known large composting plant in the country was built with external donor support and commissioned in the early 1980s. During its early years of operation the plant was useful in helping reduce the volume of waste. However high maintenance costs adversely affected its sustainability. In the last few years most of the mechanical components have been decommissioned and the plant currently operates only for demonstration purposes.


The national policy recommends small scale incineration plants for the treatment and disposal  of health care and hazardous wastes. In most towns with health facilities small incinerators have been built as part of the health provision infrastructure. These facilities involve simple designs with lateritic bricks, cement blocks and metal. Local firewood is the most common energy source and the facilities are easily operated and maintained by environmental health staff of the District Assemblies. These simple incinerators have provided several years of service in dealing with relatively small quantities of hazardous hospital wastes. However in reality many of such facilities have no environmental controls and often comprise nothing more than combustion of medical and chemical waste in an oven or open pit.

Key Knowledge Gaps

Generally, the level of research and documentation of experience is very low. The analysis of the current situation reveals the following key knowledge gaps :

  • Feasibility of options (preferably labour intensive) for upgrading waste dumping sites and landfill management 

  •  Experiences with resource mobilization for solid waste management within local authorities.

  •  Experiences with monitoring and control of waste disposal by local authorities. Specific examples are required for questions like “How do other countries build capacity to ensure that local authorities do not flout environmental requirements for landfill based disposal sites?”

  • Experiences with sustainable composting systems and success stories on strategies for promoting composting as a waste management option.


This Factsheet was developed by Anthony Mensah, Director, Waste Management, Kumasi, Ghana - contact mensahanthonty@hotmail.com and  Eugene Larbi (Sanitary Engineer) of TREND Group, Kumasi, Ghana.  More information could be obtained from eugenelarbi@yahoo.co.uk and www.trend.watsan.net  

WELL Factsheet - Regional Annexes in Developing Countries



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