The National Chairman of the Informal Waste Pickers’ Group, Mr. Johnson Doe, has appealed to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to give listening ears to the plights of the Informal Waste Pickers and Collectors in the country.

He also called on the President to address their issues to help achieve his noble vision of making Accra the cleanest city in West Africa.

Speaking in an interview on the sidelines at a virtual event organized by Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) in Accra on Friday, March 5, 2021, to commemorate this year’s International Waste Pickers’ Day (IWPD), Mr. Johnson Doe said:

“Yes, the president’s vision can be achieved if he involves us (pickers and collectors) in decision-making processes in the waste management systems particularly at the district level and we really deserve to be recognized as well.

We will equally need a clinic to be set aside for waste collectors and pickers based on the unfortunate experiences that we have in accessing healthcare delivery. Secondly, we need Materials Recovery Facilities to enable the sorting of waste and accessible landfill sites for disposal of waste.”

The virtual seminar which was on the theme, “The Journey Of Urban Informal Waste Pickers” was initiated by GAYO and hosted by Betty Osei Bonsu, a waste management expert, and an environmentalist, to highlight the plights of the informal waste sector workers and have their voices amplified in order to see their issues addressed holistically.

The event was broadcasted live via GAYO’s YouTube channel link: https://youtu.be/okhTj3C1elA as well as on other selected media platforms.

Experts and key stakeholders including the Formal and Informal waste management sector, Assembly, and Recycling Small Medium Scale Enterprise in the country convened to deliberate and share views on challenges faced by the various sector players with focused attention on the plights of the informal waste pickers and collectors.

In his opening remark, the Executive Director of GAYO, Joshua Amponsem, outlined the purpose for organizing the event indicating that, “It is not just to expose the risk, and challenges but to cut the solution out of the problem, act and push it into implementation towards the achievement of the country’s environmental sustainability and conservation goal.”

He observed that his outfit “is committed to working hand-in-glove with the informal and formal sector workers, and other stakeholders to ensure that the work of the informal sector is inclusive while restoring dignity to the work they do and eliminating all sorts of risks posed to them”.

Highlighting some of the major challenges members of the Waste Pickers’ Association are faced with in the discharge of their duties, Lydia Bamfo, the chairperson of the Borlar Taxi and Tricycle Association (BTTA), pointed out the stark issues of health her members battle with on daily basis compounded by stigma which she describes as very “unfortunate, embarrassing and dehumanizing”.

“We face a lot of challenges during our operations at the landfill sites. When it comes to the aspect of health, we inhale a lot of toxic substances on a daily basis which puts our lives at risk”, she added.

Johnson and Lydia further lamented that “Sometimes we find it difficult to rush to the hospitals when we get injured because they won’t treat you looking at the dress that you’re wearing so they’ll tell you to go and change your dress and be back before you’re attended to”.

In Ghana, informal waste pickers (sometimes referred to as scavengers) play an important role in solid waste management, acting in a parallel way to complement the work of formal waste collection and disposal agents.

Informal recycling activities by the informal waste pickers notably contribute positively to lessening environmental pollution and promoting economic growth by reducing costs of waste management and providing income opportunities for large numbers of poor people (UN-HABITAT 2010).

Despite their efforts, they are not recognized. This is not just a Ghanaian problem but a ‘global concern which other waste pickers across the world are currently battling with.

But sharing her opinion on the issues, the Executive Secretary of the Environmental Service Providers Association (ESPA), Ama Ofori-Antwi, identified the role of the waste sector as very crucial particularly waste pickers which greatly supports the formal sector in achieving effective management of solid waste in Ghana.

“As a worker of an association of private waste contractors in the country, I work with all of them and I can attest to their good work.” “They have an essential role they’re playing. They are supporting the work of the formal sector workers but what we need now is regulation”, Ama stressed.

While proffering solutions to the issues, she further hinted: “We need to do proper coordination of their work and then the inclusiveness can be done properly then they can also gain recognition.”

For his part, Head of Sanitation, Environment and Waste Management at the Ga East Municipal, Charles Asabre Ampomah, said his outfit has been supportive of the activities of the Informal Waste workers in a bid to ensure that they continue to deliver on their mandate without any form of interference.

“We’ve given them the enabling environment, we’ve created the space for them to work, we don’t arrest or harass them and they’re able to move freely and collect waste like the Formal companies. That tells you that we’re in support of what they’re doing.”

“Additionally, we are doing a project with the Institute for Environmental and Sanitation Studies, Legon and GAYO dubbed “Formalizing the Informal Waste Sector”.

“With that project, we’ve given them stickers within our municipality, we’re currently planning to have meetings with them and to provide them with some logistics, E.g. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and to help motivate them so they’ll feel recognized”, Charles indicated while outlining measures his outfit is exploring to address their concerns.

While calling on the government and other relevant stakeholders to prioritize the needs of the informal sector workers, Mr. Ampomah quickly added that “They need support; they need to be funded; they need to be provided with protective equipment; they need to be educated and they also need to be respected”.

Moses Panni the founder of the recycling SME Trash Connect reiterated on the importance of the informal Waste Collectors and Pickers and how they have put in place an incentive model to increase collection and provide income for them.

Additionally, they are currently working with other organizations to come up with policies to ensure proper sanitation in the household and set up recycling processing facilities.

This will create employment and promote inclusion of the waste workers and reduce landfills.

Adding her voice to calls for support, Lydia Bamfo appealed to the government, stakeholders, corporate organizations/institutions, and philanthropists to come to the aid of the informal waste workers.

She expressed that they need tricycles, logistics, and other equipment to empower them to work.

While commending GAYO for organizing a successful event to highlight their plight for support, she equally called for collaboration on the part of the government including its agencies, the District Assemblies, and other relevant stakeholders in the country to help strengthen their workforce in order to continue to deliver on their mandate towards achieving the development of Ghana.

Meanwhile, the host of the event, Ms. Betty Osei-Bonsu who doubles as the Project Coordinator of GAYO championing the Sustainable Community Project in her advocacy towards relieving the plights of the informal waste pickers remarked: “The Covid-19 pandemic has made it very clear how essential waste pickers are in maintaining a healthy society.”

“It is time we integrate them and stop the stigmatization to promote effective waste management in the country and beyond”, she appealed.

The International Waste Pickers’ Day (Global Pickers Day) is celebrated annually on March 1 in memory of the massacre in Columbia in which 11 workers were brutally killed at the Universidad Libre de Barranquilla (University of Barranquilla).

For the past 21 years since the tragic event, waste pickers/recyclers have unabatedly continued the fighting for recognition of their work.

Watch video on the event here:

Source: Joseph Wemakor

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