Plastic Pollution in GHANA


For many African countries, single-use plastics have become an enduring menace. Plastic bags are indiscriminately used by vendors in cities and towns across Africa, and it is common for drinking water to be sold in plastic sachets and food packed in single use styrofoam packaging. Almost 8.2 billion sachets of water are consumed in Ghana (Stoler,  2017).  Although exact data on total plastic production and importation is lacking, it is estimated that more than 3,000 metric tons daily and one million tonnes yearly of plastic waste are generated. An estimated 86 percent of Ghana’s waste plastic load, is improperly disposed off resulting in plastics clogging up stormwater drains, rivers, and streams and  ending up in the oceans. It is estimated that 250,000 metric tons of plastic waster are dumped from Ghana into the Atlantic Ocean (World Bank, 2020).

The impacts of plastics in the oceans have been well documented. In Ghana, plastics litter large swathes of the five hundred kilometre coastline and impacts marine spaces. Estimates for Ghana’s contribution to global marine debris range from approximately 92,000 to 260,000 metric tons every year, or one to three percent of the global total. Putting Ghana’s score on the Ocean Health Index at a rapidly declining 59 in 2019 and ranked 188 out of 221 exclusive economic zones (Miezah et al, 2015).  

Key Impacts

The marine impacts of plastic waste are closely connected with terrestrial impacts. At its manufacturing stage, conventional plastic production is highly dependent on virgin fossil feedstocks making it a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. While Ghana’s greenhouse gas emissions are comparatively low, the waste sector contributed 3.2MtCO2e to Ghana’s national greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, representing 8 percent of the national total of overall national emissions of 42.2 MtCO2e.19 (see here). Plastic waste also affects freshwater systems with microplastics ending up in the soil each year, releasing harmful chemicals that seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources, further contaminating ecosystems. Inadequate waste management systems in many urban areas of Ghana which has resulted in waste been burned in open dumps or household backyards, has consequences for air pollution and air quality. Plastics when burnt emits chlorinated and brominated additives and other persistent organic pollutants, and it poses severe threats to plant, animal and human health. In the marine space, plastic entanglement and ingestion by wildlife is a challenge.

In terms of the social and economic impacts, many fishers along the coast have reported catching hordes of plastics in their nets rather than fish (see here and here).

ghana fishermen image

The fishers complain that plastic pollution damages their vessels, causing accidents  and financial loss. They further link plastic pollution in the oceans to the decline in catches and fish stocks. As fisheries are central to the lives and livelihoods of coastal communities in Ghana, plastic pollution has direct consequences on livelihoods, food security and the culture and identities of communities along the coast. These communities, many of whom already experience high levels of poverty, are at risk of further decline with attendant consequences on vulnerable populations. Despite these adverse environmental impacts, the wide range of everyday single use plastics (particularly sachet water and food packs which many low income Ghanaians rely on for clean water or as a source of income for vendors), means that tackling the challenge of plastics can have wide reaching economic political and social consequences (Stoler et al, 2012). The interests of plastic producers and vendors who rely on these products is often weighed against the environmental and health consequences of plastic waste. In the reuse and recycling of plastics, informal industries have sprung up around the waste dumps in urban centres of Ghana where people including young children are exposed to the hazardous work of plastic collection.

International Policy Frameworks

While many other African countries have adopted punitive legislative anti-plastic bans targeting the importation, production, and consumption of single use plastics, Ghana has been slow in adopting regulatory mechanisms to tackle plastics. However, a renewed focus through a number of international collaborations have strengthened national efforts. These projects include the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS) NRS-Norad Project on marine litter and microplastics (BRS) which aims to strengthen the capacity to control the transboundary movements of plastic waste, to ensure the environmentally sound management of plastic waste, and prevent and minimize the generation of plastic waste.

In recognition of the more specific problem of plastic waste, Ghana became the first African country in 2019 to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) to transition to a circular plastics economy, reducing the country's plastic waste and pollution.  More specifically, GPAP is an institutional mechanism to co-ordinate the activities of stakeholders and drive the implementation of an action plan for plastic waste.  In September 2021, the Governments of Ecuador, Germany, Ghana and Vietnam also jointly organized a Ministerial Conference to build momentum and political will to advance a coherent global strategy to end marine litter and plastic pollution with an aim to ensuring a future with clean seas. This conference was in preparation for the 5th meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in March 2022, at which countries agreed to develop a global legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

National Legal and Policy Frameworks

The regulation of plastic waste in Ghana is grounded within a compendium of environment related policy and legislation. While the focal institution on plastic waste is the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), other institutions with mandates and activities related to energy, waste, sanitation and even local governance also have relevant oversight functions.  As such, bureaucratic co-ordination and policy duplication, along with a lack of resources have often hindered the regulation and management of plastic waste. A lack of political will to push through needed reforms as well as enforcement and implementation of existing policy and law, have hampered earlier attempts towards the management of plastic waste.

In 2015, following a disaster in Accra where 154 lives were lost in devastating floods and fire explosions linked to poor management of plastic waste resulting in floods,  a directive to ban plastics less than 20 microns and the use of bio-degradable additives in plastics was introduced by MESTI. However the resulting backlash from producers has meant that the ban was abandoned and the section of the directive on biodegradable plastics (which in any event does not affect single-use plastics) has been difficult to enforce.

The 2017-2022 Greater Accra Sustainable Sanitation and Livelihoods Improvement Project aims to increase access to safe and sustainable sanitation to the residents of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, a region most affected by waste and sanitation challenges.  This project is supported by the Greater Accra Resilient and Integrated Development (GARID) Project, 2019-2025 project which seeks to improve flood risk and solid waste management in the Odaw River Basin and improve access to basic infrastructure and services in targeted communities. 

In 2018, a draft National Plastics Management Policy was produced by MESTI (and a revised draft adopted in 2021 – see here). The Policy adopts a circular economy-based management policy to plastics by focusing on the creation of economic opportunities for reusing plastic waste, encouraging recycling, recovery and re-manufacture of plastics and creating a system to reduce, recover and reuse plastics while eliminating single use plastics. The policy is hinged on four focus areas:

  • Creating behavioural change by promoting awareness creation and public education including engaging the youths through curriculum development for plastics;
  • Strategic planning and cross sectoral collaboration such as the development of action plans, building capacity for and establishment of collection, recovery and recycling targets;
  • Innovative resource mobilization towards a circular economy this focuses on activities such as the establishment of a certification system and database as well as extended producer responsibility schemes. It also notes the need to operationalize the Environmental Tax Regime;
  • Good governance, inclusiveness and shared accountability which includes the need to develop a robust regulatory framework and establish mechanisms for phasing out the most hazardous plastics grades and products.

These regulatory frameworks include legislation on the environment, public health and waste management to complement the implementation of the NPMP including: National Development Planning Commission Act, 1994; National Development Planning Systems Act, 1994; Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1994; The Management of Ozone Depleting Substances and Products Regulations, 2005; Fisheries Act, 2002; Maritime Zone (Delimitation) Act, 1986; Wetlands Management (RAMSAR Sites) Regulations, 1999; Centre For Scientific and Industrial Research Act, 1996; Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority Act, 1986; Infectious Diseases Act, 1908; Public Health Act, 2012; Mercury Act, 1989; Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act, 2016; Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Regulations, 2016; Environmental Assessment Regulations 1999; Local Governance Act, 2016; Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation Act, 1965; Rivers Act, 1903; Water Resources Commission Act, 1996; Marine Pollution Act, 2016.

The Customs and Excise (Duties and Other Taxes) (Amendment) Act (2013), known as the Environmental Tax, places an ad-valorem duty of 10 percent of the ex-factory price of plastics products. At least fifty percent accruing as proceeds from the tax was to be paid  into a plastic waste recycling fund. However the environmental tax and resulting plastic fund was never fully operationalised. Furthermore, as only virgin plastic granules imported for use by domestic manufacturers are subject to the tax, there has been an influx of cheaper imported plastic products. The Marine Pollution Act 2016 implements international obligations in MARPOL 73/78, to which Ghana is a party.

Human rights considerations

Marine plastics and litter have consequences for the livelihoods and food security of coastal communities who rely on fisheries.  As many communities on the coast have their cultures and identities connected to fisheries, a collapse of the fisheries industry caused in part by plastic waste and litter in the marine ecosystem has significant socio, economic and political consequences.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Current policy efforts towards developing a circular economy for plastic waste will be contingent on developing appropriate co-ordination mechanisms between the various sectors, actors and government agencies. In particular for marine litter there is a need for engagement with fishers and a focus on community-level behavioural change. This would involve integrating plastic waste policies with community-based fisheries governance.  The NPMP as currently designed seems to focus on terrestrial activities and does not make the requisite linkages to the marine environment. 

Furthermore, there is a need to ground the national policy in legislation. The environmental tax was never operationalised fully and, in any event, needs to be amended to include imported plastic products.

There is also a need to ensure coherence across other legislation and ensure the enforcement of both existing and new legislation which may be adopted.  For example, there is a need to include plastic waste in the Criminal Code Offences Acts sections 296 and 297 and the Local Governance Act 2016, amongst others.



AUTHOR: Bola Erinosho, University of Cape Coast, Ghana


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Thanks go to the One Ocean Hub for their support of this work. The One Ocean Hub is a collaborative research for sustainable development project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Global Challenges Research Fund ((Grant Ref: NE/S008950/1).



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Miezah, Kodwo, Kwasi Obiri-Danso, Zsófiá Kádár, Bernard Fei-Baffoe, and Moses Mensah (2015) “Municipal Solid Waste Characterization and Quantification as a Measure Towards Effective Waste Management in Ghana.” Waste Management 45: 15-27.

Justin Stoler, Günther Fink, John R. Weeks, Richard Appiah Otoo, Joseph A. Ampofo, and Allan G. Hill (2012). “When urban taps run dry: Sachet water consumption and health effects in low income neighborhoods of Accra, Ghana” Health Place. 8(2): 250–262. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2011.09.020