By Joshua Amponsem
Our concern over waste, our wish to encourage recycling, and our worries about pollution conceptualized the theme “A Zero Waste Motive”
Africa is facing a growing waste management crisis. While the volumes of waste generated are relatively small, compared to developed regions, the mismanagement of waste in Africa is already affecting human and environmental health. Waste is, however, a dangerous topic to discuss in an environment of educational “efficiency dividends.” Combined with the lack of clean water, inadequate access to sanitation facilities, and increasing impacts of climate change, young people, who constitute 60% of the population in Africa, are at risk. To address these challenges, I co-founded the Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) to support rural and peri-urban communities to move towards more sustainable practices. I designed the Sustainable Community Project on the motive of ‘zero waste’ through community-based circular economy enterprise models aimed at fostering a greater autonomy and freedom in how we intelligently and creatively use our available resources. On this account, our activities are linked to sustainable development within communities through circular economy activities, providing social amenities and creating environmental awareness. In the long run, we are promoting the SDGs 1 – No Poverty, 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation, 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy, 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth, 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities, and 13 – Climate Action.
GAYO is a youth-led, gender-balanced advocacy group that focuses on environmental sustainability as well as community development. Since 2014, we have been working directly with local communities to reduce the vulnerability of groups that are at risk of climate impacts, such as children, youth, and women who have a comparatively less adaptive capacity due to social and structural inequalities.
We realized that emerging economies cannot harness the development opportunity that waste provides if waste remains scattered, uncollected across our environment, our towns, and cities and, if there is no incentive (political, legislative or economic) to divert waste away from dumpsites and landfills, into economically productive value chains.
For this reason, we piloted the Sustainable Community Project (SCP). Pioneering at Cape Coast in the Central Region and New Edubiase in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, the SCP is aimed to create a zero-waste model that can be replicated in other communities across West Africa and develop an incentive-based waste management strategy for job creation and green product development. Through our continuous training and engagement with communities in circular economy activities, our approach relies on reintegrating the principles of the circular economy at the local scale by adapting it to the societal needs of each community. These activities in local communities include waste segregation, material recovery processing, upcycling (including creative arts) and recycling of waste, charcoal briquette production using agricultural waste, and composting from domestic organic waste.
Strengthening our knowledge gap, scaling up our ideas, and implementing our circular-based projects from one community to the other, I envisage GAYO becoming an extensive organization that guides individual conscious choices in promoting sustainable living.
Social amenities play an important role in offering quality living, but that is not the situation within some of the rural areas where GAYO operates. In some circumstances, inadequate food and access to water have led to conflict. Encountering the Kandiga-Kurugu rural population in the Upper East part of Ghana, where potable water is non-existing, and living standard is far below the poverty line of 1.25 USD per day, mandated the urgency in the provision of a mechanized borehole.
The project scaled to provide safe water to over 100 women within the community who loses productive hours walking over 3 kilometers distance each day in search of water. Agriculture is the main occupation within the community, hence access and availability of water go a long way to support farming activities while taking advantage of agricultural and domestic waste to support livelihoods. With increasing temperatures in arid regions, climate change adaptation is a necessity to protect livelihoods. We aim to provide a holistic solution to the impacts of climate change by building the adaptive capacity of communities, particularly youth and women.
Ultimately, having resources without the right education, competencies and technical knowledge to use them, classifies those resources as waste. Over the past 18 months, GAYO has educated over 15,000 people on sustainability, climate change, and disaster risk reduction through focus-group forums, radio discussions, and classroom engagement. Amongst our project communities, 3,000 children have gained knowledge on a circular sanitation system and 6 students received a scholarship for their education through revenue from circular waste management.
GAYO’s zero waste motive is, directly and indirectly, creating green jobs by setting up three community-based enterprises focusing on converting agricultural waste, like coconut and rice husk, into charcoal briquette to supplement energy demands; compost from organic waste for young farmers; and demand-driven recycled products from plastic and fabric waste for the local and international market. This is an instigated partnership among community groups, local authorities, the private sector, and the public toward a united front for sustainable communities.
Men, women, boys, and girls participating in the projects have demonstrated the need for community-led proper waste management across the country. Improper waste management nexus with a lack of education and social amenities poses several challenging consequences. If it persists, it will undermine Africa’s efforts to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs). We invite others to join and support our collaborative effort to implement the zero waste motive across communities.
Ban Ki-moon said – “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security, and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”
Joshua Amponsem is an environmental/climate activist and the co-founder of Green Africa Youth Organization. His work aims to enhance the meaningful inclusion of youth and children in local and global development processes. He was an advisor in the design and delivery of the first-ever IRENA Youth Forum in Abu Dhabi and the first UN Youth Climate Summit in New York. Joshua focuses on Climate Change Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Vulnerability Reduction (Resilience Building) for communities at risk. He is the lead author of “Adapt for Our Future” – the first-ever background paper on youth and climate adaptation. Joshua is supporting the establishment of the Africa Circular Economy Network in Ghana – to localize circular-economy principles for the agriculture and waste management sector in local communities. Joshua also served as Business Development Manager and Environmental Advisor for Challenges Group Ghana, where he supported the delivery of business growth services to enterprises within the green and agricultural sector in Ghana.