Plastic is known to be one of the cheapest and most easily applicable materials in consumer products, especially as a packaging material. Unfortunately, plastic decomposes poorly in nature and is one of the most difficult materials to recycle. The state authorities in Ghana and Nigeria have faced up to this challenge, particularly at the municipal level, and are working with various companies and organizations to put a stop to this problem.
Business Finland's Bio and Circular Finland Program looked a little deeper into the topic by commissioning a report on the situation of plastic waste treatment and recycling in Ghana and Nigeria. We also investigated which of these challenges we could mitigate with Finnish expertise.
According to the National Policy on Solid Waste Management 2018, which was commissioned by the Nigerian government, the amount of plastic waste in the country is alarmingly high. Less than 20% of plastic waste is recycled through official channels. From 2007 to 2020, the demand for plastic waste has increased from 60 tons to 150 tons, representing an increase of 150% in 13 years. In Ghana, on the other hand, only about 5% of the plastic waste produced by 31 million people is officially recycled.
The demand for recycled plastic in Nigeria has clearly exceeded the supply.
The global market for recycled plastic is growing and, at least in Nigeria, the demand for recycled plastic has clearly exceeded the supply. The increasing volume of waste and demand do not match. This is well evident from the various traders in consumer products. Recycling plastic waste brings clear economic benefits and reduces the need for plastic waste management.
The report also shows how concrete infrastructure related to waste management and plastic recycling is only found in a few larger cities. According to various experts, the majority of waste is mixed waste, from which plastic can be relatively easily separated. Large waste treatment plants around the world have priced HDPE plastic at EUR 250 per ton. In Ghana and Nigeria, it has not yet been possible to establish a price for recycled plastic.
Most of the waste treatment plants are financed by municipalities and often from the state-level budget. However, the majority of plastic waste is recycled through unofficial channels. An example of this is self-organized private persons who collect and sell plastic waste for resale. Collection, sorting, reuse and sale are primarily carried out by such entrepreneurs. This significantly reduces the pressure on official landfills.
Although Nigeria and Ghana have become aware of problems related to plastic waste at the national level, it is difficult to implement far-reaching, stringent legislation: in emerging economies like these, it has such a significant impact on business. In addition, the countries have come up with good legislative initiatives on environmental protection, but they are poorly controlled.
In Ghana, for example, a survey shows that 92% of the respondents do not sort waste in their households.
Many large and international companies, both in Ghana and Nigeria, support Western thinking on EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility), according to which the waste producer should pay and be primarily responsible for recycling. Consumers also have a lot to improve. According to the report, consumers are not prepared to sort. According to a survey, 92 percent of the respondents do not sort waste in their own households in Ghana, while simultaneously in Finland, some level of household waste management is nearly a standard.
Substantial improvements in the management and recycling of plastic waste will be achieved when a clearer and higher economic value can be introduced in the plastic waste value chain. This would create clear business around plastic recycling. It would also be important to increase public funding through various incentive and fining schemes in order to significantly improve the infrastructure for the management of plastic waste. Responsibility issues should be pushed through in government programs and efforts should be made to implement them.
Consumers must see the connection between their own behavior and environmental pollution.
The information related to the amount of plastic waste is also sometimes contradictory and has not been collected systematically enough. This complicates planning and the decision to invest. Consumers’ attitudes also play a very important role in pushing through a large-scale change in plastic recycling. Consumers must see the connection between their own behavior and environmental pollution.
Finland has a high level of expertise in plastic recycling, which could speed up and improve waste management processes. Finland and West Africa have both identified actors in the countries who could work together to find solutions to these challenges.
Business Finland will participate in the World Circular Economy Forum event in Rwanda in December. As a side event event at the forum, we organized a webinar under the topic Team Finland Talks on 12.10.2022: Nigeria & Ghana – a new life for plastic,