We cannot continue with business as usual - a circular economy approach can help, in fact it is critical! NELPLAST, our 'Waste' Recovery Platform member organization, reclycling plastic waste into pavement blocks. Photo: UNDPGhana

 

By: Joel Ayim Darkwah, Programme Officer, Environment and Climate Cluster, UNDP Ghana

     Paolo Dalla Stella, Programme Specialist, Environment and Climate Cluster, UNDP Ghana

     Radhika Lal, SDG Finance Policy Advisor, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub

In the past decade, consciousness about the impacts of many of our unsustainable production and consumption patterns on the environment and our quality of life has increased. The perceived need to change course led to the adoption of landmark global agendas, such as the Paris Agreement  and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While there is growing recognition that we cannot continue as usual, countries are struggling with the ‘how’, and the pace and the sequencing of their actions.

Circular economy, with its central idea based on keeping natural resources in the economy as long as possible, constitutes a complete shift from the current practice of make, use and dispose, to a new practice of make, use, re-use, recycle or repair. It views waste as ‘material in transition’ that has value to be used for other purposes and reduces the need to go back into the environment to source for new resources for the development of those products.

Moving towards a circular economy

A lot of factors need to be addressed to ensure that economies are reshaped with circularity being at the centre of it. Among other things, there is the need for social mobilization, advocacy and behavioral change where everyone recognizes the importance of promoting sustainable production and consumption in their areas of influence and action. There is also a need for clear policy direction to drive the activities of the private sector, who are essential actors in material production and consumption, to imbibe the practices of circularity in industrial, transport and retail processes through design, production and packaging of products using processes that allow for reuse, recycle  and repair of materials.

More importantly, the journey towards circular economy requires collaborative problem-solving, engagement and partnerships across all stakeholders, not just the traditional ones. Moreover, timely data and information on who is doing what has widely been recognized as a missing link for stakeholders across the waste value chain in developing economies. For a circular economy to thrive, the availability of data and information is essential. For instance, it is important for the recycler to know how much recyclable materials are produced by the manufacturers at a specific location. Such information is also essential for policy and research purposes to improve the efficiency of resource use in an economy.

In this regard, multi-stakeholder platforms that can facilitate access to data and exchanges between key actors are needed to stimulate and facilitate collaborations and the creation of efficient value chains to optimize the use of secondary materials in the economy. Through the availability of such platforms, for example, informal waste collectors who play critical roles in material collection can have the opportunity to be recognized and to be mainstreamed in strategies and material flows by being better connected with recyclers. In the same way, such platforms can connect researchers to startups and policy makers so as to fast-track the pathways from solutions in the lab and in local communities to new policies, standards and functioning products and approaches. Platforms can also provide a space for engaging citizens to reduce, reuse and recycle.

The Ghana ‘Waste’ Recovery Platform provides a good example to follow

In Ghana, UNDP facilitated the establishment of a 'Waste' Recovery Platform, which is connecting  stakeholders and stimulating partnerships to address waste management data, and policy implementation gaps, with the ultimate goal of promoting a transition towards a circular economy. 

 

 

The ‘Waste’ Recovery Platform is very much owned and driven by traditional and non-traditional stakeholders in the waste management sector and beyond in Ghana. Since July 2018, over 300 stakeholders have actively participated in the co-designing process, had their voices heard, and contributed to the definition and development of the various components of the Platform.

The process so far has demonstrated that multi-stakeholder co-designing offers an opportunity to enhance ownership and sustainability of ideas and interventions. Engagement in the technical working groups has already helped to crowd-in support from development partners and helped catalyze additional partnerships among the partners in the Platform. The Government has also indicated its intention to use the Platform as a tool to support the implementation of key policies that promote  circular economy, such as the National Plastic Management Policy. Other national and international stakeholders have equally expressed interest in partnering with the Platform. Indeed, one of such is the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP), which has chosen Ghana as its second country of implementation, having  the President of the Republic of Ghana launching the GPAP.

Furthermore, the first edition of the ‘Waste’ Recovery Innovation Challenge has pointed us to the variety of solutions, innovations and approaches for waste recovery that are being tested by researchers and the private sector in Ghana.

With the launch of the UNDP Accelerator Lab, the work of the Ghana Waste Recovery Platform is being deepened further in areas ranging from solution mapping, to portfolios of experiments, to horizon scanning, with a focus on collective intelligence to inform policy and action.

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For information on the approach to platforms adopted by UNDP, see here.

Platform members collecting plastic for recycling. Photo: UNDPGhana
A community plastic buyback centre by Coliba, a waste collection company and a winner of UNDP 'Waste' Recovery Innovation Challenge. Photo: UNDPGhana
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