When most of Accra’s population is preparing for church on Sundays, one environmental campaigner can be found clearing plastic waste from the city’s beaches.
His name is David Kumordzie aka Togbe Ghana and he’s an afro-reggae dancehall musician. For the past few years, he has been doing his bit to keep some of Accra’s beaches rubbish free under his ‘Let’s Go Clean the Beach’ campaign.
The initiative was fuelled by his desire to tackle Accra’s litter problem after witnessing the destruction that flooding in the city caused in June 2020.
“I watched as the rains fell and Circle became flooded,” he told AKADi Magazine. “The gutters that would normally take the water away were being choked with rubbish. The flooding even reached a nearby gas filling station and gas started leaking which resulted in a fire outbreak and many deaths.
“This hit me hard. I created a song and made it my mission to address how we, the people, can improve the cleanliness of our environment. This song gave birth to the ‘Let’s Go Clean the Beach’ campaign.”
Beaches in Accra
Togbe identified sites to clean along the coastline from Accra to Prampram. They are: Teshie Nungua Beach, Dansoman Beach, Prampram Beach, Accra Art Centre Beach, Akoma Village Beach, Tawala Beach. And every Sunday, between 9am and 11am, he, his team and volunteers, clean South Labadi Estate Beach and La Tawala Beach. Togbe’s team also clean Dodowa Waterfall and provide waste bins for people to leave their rubbish in.
Thanks to funding from a Spanish organisation, Togbe and his team were able to clean the beaches every last Saturday for a year. The money they received also supported the creation of a centre at Accra Arts Centre for sorting the beach rubbish, Togbe said.
“In 2021, we gained funding from another organisation called Beach Collective that enabled me to pay for 24 workers to clean South Labadi Estate Beach and La Tawala Beach every Sunday,” Togbe said.
Beach Collective is an ocean conservation platform that trades in digital tokens called Beach Tokens. A percentage of each transaction from the tokens is used supports ocean conservation initiatives including Togbe’s.
Ghana’s plastic waste
Global plastic production sits at almost 400 million tonnes, according to figures from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Of that global figure, Ghana produces approximately 1.1 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, statistics from Ghana’s Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) show. However, only about 5% of Ghana’s plastic is recycled.
Apart from the obvious risks that poor disposal of plastic pose to cities like Accra, there are other more invisible hazards.
Burning plastic results in its release into the atmosphere. From there, the plastic can be absorbed through the skin and or inhaled into the lungs.
Plastic can enter the food chain through human consumption of seafood, contaminated drink, and even common salt, according to the UNEP.
According details from a 2019 study from the University of Newcastle in Australia, the average person ingests around five grams of plastic a week - the equivalent of a credit card.
Harmful to marine life
The non-biodegradable nature of plastics means it can clog up fishing nets, block sunlight and food for marine life, which impacts negatively on marine populations. The UNEP identifies that plastic accounts for 85% of marine litter.
In a bid to tackle the crisis, Ghana joined the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership in 2019, and has been working on a programme that aims to clean up environment and create jobs in plastics value chain – a sentiment that Togbe shares.
“We are trying to do our bit and protect Mama Earth by bringing the community along with us,” said Togbe. “But we want this to be more than just a beach clean-up."
The sorting centre allows him to find new ways to repurpose the discarded plastics and aluminium he collects.
Togbe has been working on a prototype to turn waste plastics into pavement bricks by smelting down the discarded aluminium cans and using them as moulds to create bricks from the plastic.
“We melt them down, mix them with the beach sand and pour them into the moulds to make the bricks. We have developed some bricks but in order for us to scale up, we would need to build processing chambers that would allow us to burn the plastic in an environmentally-safer way. And that requires investment that we don’t currently have,” Togbe said.
Other ideas he is working on include turning plastic into diesel – something that has already been achieved by engineer Francis Kantavooro. (Read here for more).
“One of our problems in Ghana is fuel,” says Togbe. “Fuel prices keep going up but if we were able to change plastics into diesel fuel, it would be a way for us to tackle that,” he said.
“I’ve also been approached by two companies in Turkey that are looking to source around 500 tonnes of plastic flakes a month. I would need a machine to turn the plastic I have into flakes for export. One kg of plastic is worth around Ghc1,” he said.
On a typical day, Togbe’s team can collect around 1,000kg of waste.
Keen to promote greater public participation, Togbe has developed a music video to spread public awareness.
“Often, the pollution starts from our houses so if we don’t know how to manage it from there, it will end up on our streets and in our gutters. People can reuse old plastic containers by filling them with soil, adding a plant and turning it into a small garden. I also want to set up community awareness drives in schools, create metal bins for the public to dispose of their waste, and establish collection days to pick up rubbish from people’s houses.”
He believes that every plastic producing company in Ghana should have a recycling plant on their premises to find an end product for their plastic, so it doesn’t end up damaging our environment.
“We take a lot from our environment, so it’s time to give back because when it’s clean, it is clean for us. And when it’s bad, it’s bad for us."
Asked why he chooses Sunday, typically a church day for many in Ghana to do his clean-up work, Togbe said it was purely down to people’s availability. Saturday seemed to be a very busy day for people, he said.