Waste Management: How it Works in Ghana’s Cities

As a practitioner in the waste management industry in Ghana, I realize that most citizens don’t understand how waste management is actually supposed to work. I am asked the same questions all the time. “Which company is responsible for my waste pick-up?” “Who do I talk to if someone is burning rubbish in my neighborhood?” “What do I do if the rubbish isn’t picked up on time?” So I think its best I write on it. There are some critical things you should know. I will be describing the case for Accra. It is basically the same for most assemblies in the Greater Accra Region and all other major cities in Ghana (Kumasi, Tamale, Sekondi-Takoradi, Tema).


Solid Waste Management is the responsibility of the Ministry of Local Government (MLGRD). They have an Environmental Sanitation and Health Directorate (EHSD)[@MLGRDEHSD, follow them on twitter]. That’s the law. (The Local Government Act, 1993 (ACT 462, Section 79). In each vicinity that Ministry is represented by the assembly. So if you live within the official city limits of Accra, that’s the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). If you live within the official city limits of Secondi-Takoradi then it’s the Secondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA). If you are not sure which assembly you live in, check this link to see where you belong.

So the waste belongs to the assembly the second you generate it. In other words, the waste belongs to the government. It’s the government’s job to discard the waste properly to ensure good public health and environmental sustainability. They can decide to do this themselves (which happens in many small districts) or they can pass the responsibility to a private waste management company through an agreement.




Due to the size and sheer population within Accra, the assembly has divided it into sub-metros to decentralize governance. This also decentralizes waste collection. Each sub-metro has given a different waste management company the responsibility of waste collection within it. There are at least ten accredited waste management companies within the AMA alone. Not just Zoomlion (the company everyone thinks does everything). Someone might think I’m hating because I don’t work for them but the truth of the matter is, every company that has an obligation needs to be held responsible when they fail and praised when they do well. It’s the only way things will get better. If you are not sure which company is responsible for your waste management, check with your local assembly.



The private waste management companies only have three responsibilities- Carry your rubbish away, dump it in the landfill and collect fees for doing so. Under the contract agreements that they’ve signed, this is essentially what the AMA has mandated them to do. Nothing else.



And so everything else is the job of the AMA. It’s the AMA’s job to make sure the gutters are clean (they can decide to give that out as a contract too if they wish). It’s the AMA’s job to educate citizens on how to keep their environments clean. It’s their job to enforce sanitation laws and prosecute offenders. It’s their job to regulate and monitor the private companies that they have contracted to make sure they do the right thing. Each sub-metro has a District Cleansing Officer (DCO) and a District Environmental Health Officer (DEHO). The AMA has a Waste Management Department. It’s also their job to make sure that the system works and works well.



When I say blasted, I mean failed. An epic fail. I do admit that the way this system is structured has a history and is a big step from the system that used to exist. But the problem with involving the private sector is that the assembly has essentially gone to sleep. All the regulation and education and enforcement have ceased and all that remains is the collection and “jossing” of people for money. This means that companies get away with not performing, citizens get away with breaking the law, and your city looks like a huge rubbish dump. And that is what has necessitated the monthly National Sanitation Days. If the system worked as it should, those days wouldn’t be necessary – or at least not so tedious. That also means there’s little room for innovation and improving the system for better results because everything is dysfunctional. But it’s better than no system at all, isn’t it?


So. Now you know how waste management works in cities in Ghana.

I hope these points will make things much clearer. And if they don’t, leave a comment. Ask a question. I will gladly answer.


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