Stakeholders are being urged to support and protect waste management actors to minimize their risk of COVID-19 infection and to assist with the important role they are playing in the response to the pandemic. This call was made during a virtual meeting, organized by the ‘Waste’ Recovery Platform being facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to discuss how members are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, how they are adapting and innovating in this context, and how the Platform could be mobilized to support the national response.
At the virtual meeting, the 82 participants representing 60 institutions in the waste management ecosystem, emphasized the importance of promoting waste segregation at source to reduce the risks of infection among waste collectors. This is because there is the likelihood of infectious waste being generated in households due to the presence of isolated persons and asymptomatic patients (people who do not know they have the virus). They called for greater awareness creation on waste segregation to encourage households to separate potentially infectious waste such as cough tissues and used face masks from other domestic waste, and double-bag these wastes in a separate bin before collection.
“COVID-19 is increasing household waste as people are staying at home, but unfortunately people are mixing all wastes together. Awareness creation is key in this difficult time, and media and all stakeholders must come on board to sensitize the public”, noted Dr Edem Mahu, Lecturer at the University of Ghana during the meeting.
The concerns raised by members during the meeting were validated by a quick poll, where out of the 51 participants that voted, majority indicated that their greatest concern in this period is the potential of infectious waste being mixed with general waste in households. This was followed by high volume of waste due to people staying at home with limited infrastructure to manage these wastes; lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for sanitation workers; and limited financial capacity of service providers, leading to layoffs.
Similarly, in terms of stakeholders in the waste management sector being mostly affected by the pandemic, individual level waste pickers/transporters emerged as the first category (see graph below).
The participants strongly recommended a collective effort to protect frontline waste collectors (both formal and informal), for example through the provision of PPEs, specialized training on handling of potentially infectious waste as well as COVID-19 testing, as some may have been already exposed due to the nature of their work. For waste management service providers in the sector, the pandemic has resulted in significant drops in revenue and they called for stimulus packages from government to sustain their businesses. These, they said, could include grant facilities and tax waivers to support their operations.
“We are currently generating less than 40% of our estimated revenue. Despite more household waste generation, people are finding it difficult to pay for waste collection. We also have huge drop in services from commercial clients such as those in the hospitality sector due to suspension of services and we really need support”, Ms Ama Ofori Antwi, Executive Secretary of the Environmental Services Providers Association (ESPA) noted.
Among the key recommendations was the need for centralized revenue collection and electronic payment systems to facilitate revenue collection for waste management service providers. The participants also raised the importance of paying particular attention to hotspot areas, such as informal settlements. Speaking from a local government perspective, Desmond Appiah, Chief Sustainability Advisor at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), mentioned that AMA is identifying local champions to rapidly communicate the need for behavioral change, including social distancing and hand washing in public places.
In addition, the participants expressed concerns about the safe disposal of infectious waste, for example in health care facilities. It was suggested that best available technologies should be adopted (such as autoclaving or incineration in temperatures above 850-degree celsius) to complement existing health care waste management infrastructure across the country. In his submission, the Head of Environment and Climate Cluster of UNDP Ghana, Paolo Dalla Stella noted that the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service, in partnership with UNDP have been supporting the adoption of non-incineration technologies (autoclaves) for medical waste management in some health care facilities in the country (Cape Coast Teaching Hospital, Koforidua Regional Hospital and Tegbi Health Centre). He added that currently, UNDP is working with the UN systems in Ghana and the health authorities to promote safe and effective health care waste management.
“Our current response to COVID-19 includes health care waste management and we are working with the Health Facilities Regulatory Agency (HeFRA), an agency under the Ministry of Health; and the Accra School of Hygiene to conduct monitoring and training on medical waste in about 800 health facilities. We are also partnering with Ministry of Health to promote local production of hand sanitizers and looking at the possibility of procuring additional autoclaves to support existing facilities”, said Paolo Dalla Stella.
In terms of concrete actions, participants noted that the current crisis presents some opportunities to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Ghana’s waste management system, for instance, through investments in research and locally-driven innovations.