Air, water, and waste pollution are major environmental challenges in Ghana.
Air pollution is Ghana’s number one environmental risk to public health and the country’s sixth-ranked overall risk (out of 19) for death. 100% of Ghana’s population is exposed to PM2.5 levels exceeding WHO guidelines. This is primarily due to the impacts caused by household air pollution (causing about 8,800 premature deaths), and secondarily by ambient air pollution (about 7,200 premature deaths) in rural and urban areas. Air pollution’s disease burden is disproportionately borne by infants and the elderly .
In Ghana, over 3,000 metric tons of plastic waste is generated every day—equivalent to 1.1 million metric tons per year— and an estimated 86% roughly is mismanaged. This results in widespread environmental and urban pollution, which has become commonplace in nearly every community in Ghana over the past 20 years, and contributes to disasters, especially flooding and cholera outbreaks. The impact on air pollution can also be significant given that 11% of Ghana’s waste is burned. Burning plastics releases toxic substances and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change .
Estimates for Ghana’s contribution to global marine debris is approximately 1% to 3% of the global total. Without comprehensive interventions, marine debris inputs are expected to soar in excess of 350,000 metric tons /year by 2025. Impacts include entanglement and ingestion by wildlife, alteration of habitats, and the transport of alien species. Freshwater environments are also vulnerable to many of the hazards that plastics pose to the marine environment .
E-waste has become a complicated challenge and significant environmental issue in Ghana. Inappropriate processing of e-waste can cause detrimental environmental and public health effects as toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, nickel, and mercury, and hazardous contaminants, such as dioxins and dioxin-like compounds are released .
The quality of naturally occurring surface waters and groundwater in Ghana some years back was generally good, until the recent phenomenon of pollution . Water pollution causes significant damage (equivalent to 3% of GDP) due to the health effects of an inadequate water supply, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene (about 10,600 early deaths), as well as discharge of solid waste, industrial effluents, and toxic substances into water systems .
Rapid urbanization presents Ghana with a pressing challenge in air quality management ; available data indicates that the capital Accra has consistently high levels of air pollution. Contributors to poor air quality in Ghana include the mining, forestry, and cement industries, aluminum smelting, vehicle emissions, and waste burning. Seasonal variations in pollution also exist, with highest levels occurring in December and January due to dust blowing from the Sahara Desert .
In addition, an estimated 20.5 million Ghanaians—over 70% of the population—burn solid fuels, like fuelwood, charcoal, and dung, in their homes for cooking and heating. Households use open fires or inefficient cookstoves—often in confined, poorly ventilated spaces— contributing to high levels of indoor air pollution .
The challenge of plastic waste may be placed in the context of the overarching waste management system, in which over 30,000 metric tons of municipal solid waste are generated each day in Ghana. Of this waste only 14% is collected; 38% is dumped in open spaces set aside as informal dumps; 24% is deposited at “community containers”; 9% is dumped indiscriminately; 11% is burned in the open; and 4% is buried. Spatial disparities in access to waste management services also exist between regions, as well as between rural and urban areas .
The major causes of freshwater pollution in Ghana include localized discharges of sewage into water bodies from industrial and domestic activities, leaching of fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture, and illegal artisanal mining (‘galamsey’). This has become a constant menace as almost all water resources located close to mining areas are seriously polluted .
Key policies and governance approach
The foremost environmental law in Ghana is the 1992 Constitution , which provides the broad framework for the responsibilities of the state and citizens for environmental protection and the maintenance of a clean, healthy and safe environment which promotes human wellbeing for national development. In fulfilment of these broad responsibilities, Ghana has signed onto a number of international agreements and treaties on health and pollution, and enacted a variety of national legal and policy frameworks for safeguarding the health of citizens and environment .
The main agency responsible for air quality management is the EPA. Although Ghana has piecemeal laws, regulations, and policies related to improved air quality and reduced GHG emissions, there is no overarching policy on air quality management, despite the need for air quality management being defined in the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1994 (Act 490) and the Environmental Assessment Regulations, (1999) (L.I. 1652). The National Environmental Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan (2010) supported actions to prevent open burning of municipal and agricultural waste .
There are several national institutions and private organizations whose mandates and activities touch—and overlap—on waste management issues (including plastics). In 2007, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development published an ambitious and holistic Environmental Sanitation Policy. The Policy’s main theme is “Materials in Transition (MINT)”. MINTing is a philosophy of creating awareness to change public attitudes toward handling and disposal of all types of waste by demonstrating that there remains economic value in waste components. It aims to create “green collar” jobs and has the potential to reduce Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies’ waste management costs. The policy has seven broad and cross-cutting focal areas: (i) capacity development; (ii) information, education and communication; (iii) legislation and regulation; (iv) sustainable financing and cost recovery; (v) levels of service; (vi) research and development; and (vii) monitoring and evaluation. In addition, the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) released a draft National Plastics Management Policy in early 2018, aligned with the Environmental Sanitation Policy .
EPA also has the mandate to regulate and manage e-waste. The Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act, 2016 (Act 917) and its associated regulations, L.I. 2250, are the main legal instruments that govern the control, management, and disposal of hazardous and electrical/electronic waste, as well as regulating electrical and electronic equipment imports and domestic production, and prohibiting e-waste imports. The Act also provides for the establishment of an Electrical and Electronic Waste Management Fund, the objectives of which are to finance modern e-waste recycling facilities, support research and publication of reports, and conduct education and awareness campaigns. Other legislative instruments have supported management and control of electronic waste over the years but, because most e-waste is processed in the informal economy and Government surveillance remains minimal, the regulations are largely not respected .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
Despite constitutional and policy frameworks in place for addressing pollution, environmental pollution remains a challenge for the wellbeing of people in Ghana . Ghana has a high number of institutions to deal with environmental management, yet the institutional framework for environmental management is incomplete. The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and MESTI (2010) reported the combination of potentially conflicting mandates within single institutions—policy coordination, regulation, and management—as impeding improvements to the country’s environmental governance system. They also view the Constitution’s wording as ambiguous in defining the relationship between sector agencies and parent ministries. In their view, the agencies need stronger policy direction from parent ministries to operate efficiently within the national policy framework. In addition, one of the challenges that many institutions face is that they are not equipped with the legal capacity to monitor and enforce actions .
Environmental resource management expertise does not reside solely in public institutions, but also in the private sector and civil society. There is, however, little public awareness and lack of involvement by local communities in decision-making. A study on the impact of environmental policy on livelihoods of forest fringe communities found out that policymaking is mainly centralized. Communities are not involved in the policies that affect their livelihood as resource users, so the policies are ineffective at achieving intended objectives .
Initiatives and Development Plans
In 2019, MESTI launched the Health and Pollution Action Plan (HPAP), facilitated by UNIDO, in collaboration with the WHO-Ghana, with funding from the European Union and USAID. HPAP provides detailed information on the most critical sources of Ghana’s pollution challenges as well as the actions and the recommendations for mitigating their human health impacts. The action plan provides a framework for Government, other national stakeholders, and development partners who have mandates and interest in assisting Ghana to address pollution, within which to pursue together a structured approach , .
A Technical Working Group of stakeholder representatives led the pollution source prioritization process for the HPAP and contributed technical expertise to the development of project proposals for addressing the identified priority pollution issues. Project proposals included a Sustainable Waste Management Pilot in the Kumasi metropolis, Resource Efficient - Cleaner Production (RECP) in the Chemu catchment area, and National Contaminated Site Identification and Assessment .
- Improve enforcement of existing regulations.
- Clarify mandates/roles in enforcement.
- Finalize the draft Air Quality Monitoring policy.
- Create a multi-stakeholder platform to coordinate Air Quality Monitoring planning across public, private, and non-profit sectors.
- Reinforce/recruit staff with proper Air Quality Monitoring training.
- Establish a robust Air Quality Monitoring data management system to support decision making and provide alerts to the public.
- Monitor air quality in rural settings.
- Impose sufficient distances between industrial, commercial, residential zones.
- Design interventions to promote LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) cookstove use.
- Communicate behaviour change to plastics consumers for conscientious waste management.
- Perform market analysis of financial sustainability of recyclable plastic products to promote private sector initiatives.
- Establish a cross-sectoral body to hold authority for making and implementing plastic management policies.
- Dedicate budgetary resources to agencies tasked with enforcement of anti-plastic pollution regulations.
- Explore innovative models for sustainable financing: plastics levy; consumption tax; increase cost of plastic bags.
- Incentivize plastic recycling using cashback schemes.
- Undertake a scientific assessment of the environmental and human health impact of e-waste management in Ghana.
- Increase regularity of e-waste regulation enforcement efforts.
- Build capacity of customs officials to monitor ports for illegal Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, enhance internal oversight and quality control, coordinate with neighboring countries.
- Designate informal dumpsites as formal recycling centers to permit closer inspection.
- Bolster infrastructure at municipal landfills.
- Provide public education and awareness on the effects of poor Municipal Solid Waste Management practices on health.
- Enhance law enforcement on the import and use of hazardous waste.
- Promote waste-to-energy technologies.
- Develop innovative financing mechanisms and scale up investments in the sanitation sector.
- Promote private sector participation in the provision of sanitation services.
- Improve the management of Health Care Waste.
- Monitor industrial effluents and apply sanctions on defaulting companies.
- Enforce national laws and regulations on the import of hazardous and other waste in line with Basel Convention.
- Implement mercury control and management programmes to fulfil Ghana’s obligations under the Minamata convention.
 World Bank. 2020. Ghana Country Environmental Analysis. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33726 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO
 Yeleliere,E., Cobbina, S.J., Duwiejuah, A.B. (2018). Review of Ghana’s water resources: the quality and management with particular focus on freshwater resources. Applied Water Science (2018) 8:93. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13201-018-0736-4.
 International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. Ghana General Health Risks: Air Pollution. [Online]. Available: https://www.iamat.org/country/ghana/risk/air-pollution.
 UNIDO. [Online]. Available: https://www.unido.org/news/launch-health-and-pollution-action-plan-ghana.