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Waste pickers of Kpone landfill fight for recognition and formal inclusion, Accra, Ghana


Description:

Kpone landfill is one of the principal landfills in Accra, next to the ones in Nsumia, Nsawam, and various smaller dumpsites across the city. It was opened in 2013 in the municipality of Kpone-Katamanso, located in the Tema area of the Greater Accra Region, to receive a daily amount of 700 tons of waste. Waste collection in Accra is done by several private contractors and slowly improving, although there is still no full coverage due to different problems. Recycling is almost entirely done by the informal sector. [1][2]

Kpone landfill replaced a smaller uncontrolled dumpsite, was financed by the World Bank, and is now operated by the company Waste Landfills and the city of Tema [3]. It has received waste from Tema and Ashaiman, and in addition to that, also increasing volumes from other parts of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (which in total generates an estimated 5,000 tons of waste per day [4], while Tema alone generates about 800 tons, of which 26 percent is plastic [5]). Kpone was recently estimated to receive about 1,200 tons of waste daily [6] and until 2016 even received up to 2,500 tons per day, as it was temporarily Accra’s only landfill [7]. When in 2018 an interim landfill was shut down, large amounts of waste were again redirected to Kpone, leading to long queues of refuse trucks outside the entrance as the landfill had reduced its operational hours to only eight hours per day [8]. In August 2019, the landfill already reached 30 meters in height and caught fire. Waste pickers nevertheless continued their work, while the Tema area was covered in smoke for several weeks and locals suffered from throat diseases. The fires were supposedly caused by sparkles from a ceramics factory that operates next to the landfill. [9][10]

A particular issue is waste from the vast amounts of imported secondhand clothing, commonly called ‘Obroni W’awu’ (which in Akan means ‘Dead White Man's Clothes’). As recently documented by the OR Foundation, such waste accounts for up to 20 percent of Kpone’s landfill capacity, although much of it also irregularly ends up in runoff waters and reaches the sea where it accumulates on the seabed [10][11]. Waste pickers report that, contrary to plastics and other material, there is no demand for garment waste and it hence cannot be collected, but nevertheless hampers the scavenging activities [11][12]. Imported secondhand textiles are discharged at the port of Tema and then sold at places such as the Kantamanto Market, but 40 percent is unusable already at the point of arrival and has to be sorted out. This regularly leads to congestion of both landfills and the waste collection system, as there is currently no control over garment imports and its quality. [11]

According to a 2019 environmental and social audit on order of the Government of Ghana, the landfill has been receiving about a double amount of waste than planned, while a planned extension was not realized, so that it is already reaching its capacities and the initially planned lifetime of 25 years cannot be met. Moreover, although constructed as an engineered landfill, it did no comply with norms for leachate and special waste treatment, the covering of material, and environmental monitoring. Waste picking was officially planned to be prohibited but is now tolerated at designated places and times. [1][3] An initially planned separation and recovering system was never realized because the land was controversially taken by real estate developers [3][13]. The report noted that most plastics were recovered and stored near the landfill and framed the activities of “a large number of waste pickers” as “uncontrolled” and “interfering with the site operations”. It recommended that waste picking should become gradually minimized and prohibited over the next six months. [3]

Currently, about 300 women and men waste pickers at Kpone landfill earn a living from the collecting, sorting, and selling of recyclable materials [1]. They claim to recover 60 percent of the discarded recyclable waste but also face a number of challenges and vulnerabilities. They are exposed to health hazards, caused for example through occupation risks, contact with hazardous material, and constant stench that triggers cholera, respiratory diseases, and even lung cancer. They also face a lack of social and political recognition and are regularly confronted with harassment and disrespect, despite their specific skills in recycling and the significant socio-economic and environmental contributions (recovering large amounts of recyclable waste and reducing municipal waste management costs). Other common problems include unstable prices for recyclable waste materials, a lack of capital and storage facilities, and a lack of access to health and child care. Social precarity became also visible during the recent COVID-19 outbreak, as many waste pickers and informal workers initially continued their activities despite the risk of contagion and a lack of protective clothing and sanitizers, while the quarantine lock-down prohibited the work and, in doing so, also threatened their ability to sustain themselves. Weeks later they could return to the landfill and resume work. [1][5][14][15][16]

In total, about 7,800 people in the Greater Accra Region engage in waste picking according to 2020 figures [17]. A study by Rockson et al. (2013) on the informal recycling sector in Greater Accra finds that waste picking serves as a survival strategy for less privileged groups who have difficulties to find formal employment. It is a strongly male-dominated sector that comes with the mentioned health hazards, social stigmatization, and a lack of recognition and support from local authorities. In addition to waste pickers, also itinerant buyers and informal street collectors contribute to the high recycling rates of the informal sector and, in a way, provide free collection services. It is reported that just in the year 2008, a total of 484,000 tons of scraps were processed in small and medium-sized recycling facilities in Tema. [16]

Waste pickers of Kpone started to organize in the year 2014. A crucial claim was to include waste pickers’ work in municipal frameworks and the sanitation law, but also to fight discrimination, obtain access to health care and to get recognized for their enormous knowledge and contribution to recycling within the formal waste management system. In 2018, the ‘Kpone Landfill Waste Pickers Association’ became officially registered, which also aims to improve the economic situation of the community through the commercialization of recyclables. There is also a second Tema-based waste pickers group called ‘Biakoye Waste Pickers Association’. [6][17][18] Members of the Kpone association report that they have weekly meetings in which they encourage, help and educate each other, coordinate with other groups, and discuss how to lower dependencies on intermediaries in the recycling business [19]. One of them also reports that the organizing helps the group to share problems, to be less vulnerable, and to make claims to the government, for example for the time after the landfill closure. She moreover stated that safety conditions were still a big concern at the landfill but that she nevertheless likes to work with waste as it allows her to make a living and to sustain family members. [20]

Waste pickers at Kpone landfill and Biakoye have been supported by ‘Women in Informal Employment - Globalizing and Organizing’ (WIEGO). The organization has brought public attention to their challenges and contributions and has been working with grassroots organizations of the informal economy in Accra as part of its ‘Focal Cities’ initiative, which aims at capacity-building of informal workers, including waste pickers, to strengthen their organizing, and to foster dialogues with the respective municipal authorities. The activities also included engagement in the legal sphere and to review current by-laws from the perspective of informal workers in order to overcome criminalization and restrictions and to develop more inclusive policy proposals. Workshops with waste pickers from the Kpone and Biakoye associations were for example held in 2019 and aimed at capacity-building and the co-designing of policies and revealed that, in light of the imminent landfill closure, waste pickers had various hopes to continue recycling as part of the waste management system, for example in door-to-collection and formal recycling work at the new landfill. Capacity-building also came as part of the multi-year Pick-It!’ project, which aims to integrate waste pickers from Kpone landfill and Biakoye into collection and recycling schemes for plastic waste. It is one of Accra’s first inclusive recycling projects and supported by WIEGO, Environment360, Fan Milk Limited, and MIT D-Lab. [5][6][14][15][18][21][22]

Waste pickers of Kpone and Biakoye have also initiated various mobilizations in recent years. On the annual celebrations of the International Waste Pickers Day on March 1st local struggles are linked to the international waste picker movement as part of an international campaign of the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec) and WIEGO. For instance, in 2019 the two waste picker associations held a press conference and appealed for a health post near the landfill. Under the motto “One Day of Celebration, 364 Days of Struggle”, they also urged the government and civil society organizations to support them in capacity-building and to recognize their knowledge in waste management and disease prevention. They called for more respect and recognition for waste pickers in Kpone, pointing to their significant role in reducing waste volumes and the various hazards that come with their work. They also demanded protective clothing and first aid equipment. [5][15] In 2020, dozens of waste pickers attended a demonstration march in Kpone to make waste pickers’ work visible and call out the current problems. Banners included statements such as “We are environmental workers”, “Stop looking down on us”, “Stop treating us harshly”, “We love waste picking” and “Recognize our work and support” [23].

As mentioned, Kpone landfill has quickly reached its capacities, which led to deteriorating sanitary conditions. Residents of the Kpone community became affected by problems such as strong stench, smoke caused by fires, poisoned water and a spread of mosquitoes and diseases, and have repeatedly demanded the closure of the landfill. In 2019, they stated to the media that they can no longer endure the adverse impacts. Concerns were raised especially by youth groups of Kpone but also the traditional council and nearby businesses. [1][24][25] In the most recent demonstration in March 2020, the ‘Kpone Organised Youth for Development’ group pointed to the aggravating health hazards, the recent fires, and the pollution of the lagoon through the toxic litter. They threatened to launch further protests and to sue the government if no measures would be taken to create a healthy environment. [4][24][26][27] They wielded placards with statements such as “Sanitation Ministry is a Disaster, Stop Polluting our water bodies, Kpone dumpsite is killing us” [24].

The Sanitation Ministry expressed its understanding of their concerns but asked for patience, as it was still assessing an alternative site to divert the waste by May 2020 [4]. This plan might also come in the course of a conflict between the waste collector Zoomlion and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), which was recently reported to owe around GHS40 million ($US 7 million) to its contractors. Zoomlion is the largest affected private waste operator and already in the past frequently went on strike after disputes over outstanding payments, leading to the partial collapse of waste management. [1][27][28] As of May 2020, there is however no official communication about the planned closure of Kpone landfill, while Zoomlion, which is linked to the same group as the landfill operator, has recently stopped its trucks from disposing waste at the site, affecting waste pickers who had just returned to work after the COVID-19 lockdown. The company informed waste pickers that AMA has not honored its contract by failing to pay its waste management services across Accra. [1] Previously, the government had been negotiating a re-engineering of the site. As part of a program supported by the World Bank, the city still plans to construct a new landfill and two new waste transfer stations, while it would also close the Abokobi and Agbogbloshie dumpsites. [27][29] Parts of the waste could also be shifted to Accra’s new Integrated Compost and Recycling Plant. The new plant is designed to process organic waste (65 percent of all waste [2]) and to recycle plastic waste, but informal waste pickers are not allowed to enter the site. [9] 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Waste pickers of Kpone landfill fight for recognition and formal inclusion, Accra, Ghana
Country:Ghana
State or province:Greater Accra Region
Location of conflict:Kpone - Tema
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Urban development conflicts
E-waste and other waste import zones
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific commodities:Land
Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Secondhand clothes

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Kpone landfill was opened as an engineered landfill in 2013 in the municipality of Kpone-Katamaso, located in the Tema area of the Greater Accra Region. It comprises an area of 18 hectares with 4 cells and is owned by the Tema Metropolitan Assembly. Its construction was funded by a program of the International Development Association, which belongs to the World Bank. [3] It is operated by the company Waste Landfills, which is linked to the same group as Accra’s largest waste collector ZoomLion. In addition, also other waste companies and informal waste collectors bring waste to Kpone. A planned extension with another 9 cells (across 20 hectares) was not completed as the proposed land was controversially taken by a real estate developer and, in the following, the city of Tema demarcated it as the industrial area that will be used for the construction of a factory. That implies that instead of a planned 25 years lifespan, the site already reached its capacities after six years. [3][13]

As part of the Greater Accra Resilient and Integrated Development (GARID) program supported by the World Bank, the city plans to construct a new landfill and two new waste transfer stations, while it would also close the Abokobi and Agbogbloshie dumpsites. [27][29]

Project area:18 ha
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:300 waste pickers at Kpone landfill, nearby residents
Start of the conflict:2014
Company names or state enterprises:Waste Landfills Limited from Ghana - Operator of Kpone landfill
Zoomlion Ghana Ltd. from Ghana
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources (MSWR)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA)
Tema Metropolitan Assembly (TMA)
Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs)
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Development Association (IDA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Kpone Landfill Waste Pickers Association
Biakoye Waste Pickers Association
Women in Informal Employment - Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec)
Environment 360
Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA)
OR Foundation
Kpone Organised Youth for Development (OYD)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Wastepickers, recyclers
Women
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:Waste pickers of Kpone landfill demand an end of discrimination, better working conditions, and social rights, such as access to health services. Above all, they demand recognition for their work and contribution to recycling, and to become included in the formal waste management system, for example in door-to-door collection and the management and formalized recycling work at a new landfill. [6]

WIEGO demands the formal inclusion of waste pickers in the management of sanitary landfills and the recycling system, which has to be improved. The organization says that ‘zero waste’ approaches must also address the protection of livelihoods that depend on informal recycling, which is above all, to allow continued access to recyclable waste and improve the social protection of waste pickers. [30]

The Environmental Service Providers Association (ESPA) called for better waste segregation as an alternative to landfills, which would sooner or later just reached again their capacities – as almost no landfill in Accra has had a lifetime longer than five years and most of them were poorly managed. This had to start at the household level but would also come with better collection services and new treatment facilities. [2][4][9][25]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:There have been substantial achievements at the grassroots level as waste picker groups of Kpone and Tema have started to organize and voice their demands. They were supported by WIEGO and a couple of pilot projects that aimed at strengthening their recognition and position as important recyclers. However, there have so far been few achievements at the institutional level: the struggle for recognition is still ongoing and informal waste pickers remain largely sidelined by municipal waste management policies, even though the waste overflow across Accra causes daily headaches.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

National Environmental Sanitation Policy (2010)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[17] Baah-Boateng, W., Vanek, J. (2020): Informal Workers in Ghana: A Statistical Snapshot. WIEGO Statistical Brief N° 21, January 2020.

[3] Salifu, L. (2019): Draft Final Report. Environmental and Social Audit of Kpone Landfill. Ghana Ministry of Works and Housing, February 2019.

[16] Rockson, G., Kemausuor, F., Seassey, R., Yanful, E. (2013): Activities of scavengers and itinerant buyers in Greater Accra, Ghana. In: Habitat International, 39, 148-155.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[14] WIEGO (2020): Accra. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.wiego.org/accra

[23] Globalrec (2020): Health walk through the principal streets of Kpone to make their work visible for #wastePickersDay2020 by the Kpone Landfill Organization in Ghana. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://twitter.com/global_rec/status/1234815668131942401

[21] WIEGO (2019): WIEGO-ACA Dialogue with Informal Workers and Lawyers. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.wiego.org/content/wiego-aca-dialogue-informal-workers-and-lawyers

[22] Yeboah, A. (2017): Plastic waste is destroying aquatic life - TMA. Ghana news Agency, 08.11.2017. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.ghananewsagency.org/economics/plastic-waste-is-destroying-aquatic-life-tma-124687

[24] Class FM (2020): Shut Kpone landfill or we sue – Angry youth to gov't. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.classfmonline.com/news/health/Shut-Kpone-landfill-or-we-sue-Angry-youth-to-gov-t-11560

[26] The Independent Ghana (2020): Kpone youth threatens massive demo against overage landfill site. 18.03.2020. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://theindependentghana.com/2020/03/kpone-youth-threatens-massive-demo-against-overage-landfill-site/

[5] Modern Ghana (2018): Waste Pickers Association Appeals For Health Post. 04.03.2018. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.modernghana.com/news/839081/waste-pickers-association-appeals-for-health-post.html

[7] Waste Landfills (2016): Accra gets new landfill site. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
http://wastelandfill.com.gh/accra-gets-new-landfill-site/index.html

[8] Ghanadistrics.com (2018): No Cholera cases recorded in Accra since 2017 – AMA boss. 06.06.2018. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
http://www.ghanadistricts.com/Home/Reader/c2ce3b2-6fb7-49c6-b3

[9] Starrfm.com.gh (2019): Gov’t urged to adopt IRECORP as Kpone landfill site poses danger to residents. 03.09.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://starrfm.com.gh/2019/09/govt-urged-to-adopt-irecorp-as-kpone-landfill-site-poses-danger-to-residents/

[13] Darke, R. (2014): Estate developers enroach on Kpone Engineered Landfill site. Daily Graphic, 02.04.2014. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)

[15] GBC Ghana Online (2019): Waste Pickers call for respect and recognition. 02.03.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.gbcghanaonline.com/general/waste-pickers-call-for-respect-and-recognition/2019/

[27] Dapaah, E. (2020): Government eager to pay debt owed landfill operators – AMA boss. Citinewsroom, 11.03.2020. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://citinewsroom.com/2020/03/government-eager-to-pay-debt-owed-landfill-operators-ama-boss/

[28] Adogla-Blessa, D. (2018): AMA contracts trucks to collect waste as Zoomlion drivers strike. Citi Newsroom, 17.09.2018. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://citinewsroom.com/2018/09/zoomlion-drivers-strike-ama-contracts-trucks-to-collect-filth/

[17] Doe, J. (2018): In Accra, Kpone landfill organization small steps, big horizon. Globalrec, 21.12.2018. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://globalrec.org/2018/12/21/in-accra-kpone-landfill-organization-small-steps-big-horizon/

[18] Lau, F. (2019): Co-designing with waste-pickers in Ghana. MIT D-Lab, 06.02.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://d-lab.mit.edu/news-blog/blog/co-designing-waste-pickers-ghana

[1] Personal communication with the local WIEGO team.

[29] Citi Newsroom (2019): Gov’t to construct US$43 million landfill facilities at Abokobi and Agbogbloshie. 05.12.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://citinewsroom.com/2019/12/govt-to-construct-us43-million-landfill-facilities-at-abokobi-and-agbogbloshie/

[25a] Public Agenda Ghana (2019): Close, relocate Kpone landfill site; it’s killing us – Residents. 24.04.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.publicagendagh.com/close-relocate-kpone-landfill-site-its-killing-us-residents/

[25b] Modern Ghana (2019): Kpone Landfill Site Faces Closure Over Health Hazards. 04.12.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.modernghana.com/news/971611/kpone-landfill-site-faces-closure-over-health-haza.html

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[6] WIEGO (2019): Recognizing Waste Pickers. Youtube, 15.07.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8pMRF7w6B4

[6]] WIEGO (2019): Recognizing Waste Pickers. Youtube, 15.07.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8pMRF7w6B4

[10] Ricketts, L. (2020): Our Long Recovery - Land on Fire. Youtube, 16.03.2020. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://youtu.be/J6J9EfOdPgg

[19] Ricketts, L. (2020): We Are Human Beings - The Waste Pickers' Perspective. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020) Youtube, 16.03.2020.
https://youtu.be/wahLuZvcVnM

[20] WIEGO (2019): Feeding Families: Meet Grace from Ghana. Youtube, 15.07.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-e4ZBNfqS8&feature=emb_title

Other comments:[1] Personal communication.

This case has been reported in collaboration with the local and regional WIEGO team.

Meta information

Contributor:Max Stoisser, in collaboration with WIEGO (Karim Saagbul, Dorcas Ansah & Vanessa Pillay)
Last update14/05/2020

Images

 

Waste pickers of Kpone demonstrate on the International Waste Pickers Day in 2020

(Globalrec)

Waste pickers at a press conference demanded health services

(Source: modernghana.com)

Fire outbreak in Kpone in 2019

(retrieved from 'Our Long Recovery'; https://youtu.be/J6J9EfOdPgg

The World Bank wanted to prohibit waste picking, a planned recycling facility was never opened

(Photo credit: Dean Saffron; WIEGO)

Waste picking still takes place under precarious conditions

(Source: citinewsroom.com)

Waste pickers started to organize in 2014 and in 2018 officially registered as an association

(Globalrec)

Waste picking is a source of livelihood for hundreds of waste pickers in Kpone

(Photo credit: Dean Saffron; WIEGO)

Garbage is transported at Kpone landfill in 2019

(Retrieved from 'Our long Recovery'; https://youtu.be/wahLuZvcVnM)

March 2020: A youth movement in Kpone demonstrates against the landfill

(Retrieved from video report of Citi Newsroom; https://youtu.be/wHZ8F5rKC0A)

Large amounts of second hand clothes from the Global North end up at Accra's market and, in the following, at the dumpsites

(Retrieved from ; https://youtu.be/QG2oZ8f3am8)

Motto of the International Waste Pickers Day: "1 day of celebration, 364 days of struggle"

(Globalrec)