Taking a more critical look at waste prevention in industrial and services sectors

Maximising opportunities for waste prevention is considered by experts in the waste sector as the most preferred tool for developing a sustainable waste management system.

Given the worrying juxtaposition of growing waste generation levels with insufficient waste infrastructure within Ghana’s urban areas, waste prevention could go a long way in minimising the intense pressure on the nation’s growing but limited waste collection and treatment systems and facilities. Nonetheless, a fair assessment of the public discourse on waste management in Ghana reveals the loud silence of discussions pertaining to waste prevention. With intense but by no means undeserved attention placed on waste collection and treatment, one may be forgiven for thinking that the avoidance of waste has no bearing on the thoughts of stakeholders, especially those in the industrial and services sectors. A closer inspection reveals otherwise.

Overview of Industrial and Services Sectors

Stakeholders in industry and the services sector contribute significantly to Ghana’s economy. According to provisional data from the Ghana Statistical Service, Ghana’s industrial and services sectors accounted for 34% (GH¢94.8million) and 46% (GH¢129.3million) of GDP for 2018, respectively. Notable contributory sub-sectors to these numbers include manufacturing, construction, financial services, telecommunications, retail trading and hospitality.

The business models and utilisation of resources by these businesses play a pivotal role in shaping consumption trends in the country. For example, due to the increasing adoption of plastic packaging by beverage manufacturers, one is less likely to encounter glass bottles in the average Ghanaian urban household compared to a few decades ago. Ghana’s industrial and services establishments are therefore ideally positioned to influence waste generation trends in the country.

Treading on somewhat-familiar ground

Incorporating business model changes with waste prevention outcomes is not an entirely novel idea in Ghana’s industrial and services sectors. Appearing in different formats, it is a rather well-tested feature that has been driven more by the desire to enhance competitiveness in aggressive markets than any strong environmental impulse (though a few exceptions exist, such as Voltic Ghana’s introduction of the Twist Bottle which uses 7% less plastic).

Relevant everyday examples can be seen in paper waste generation; or, more accurately, its reduction in two prominent sectors in Ghana which have witnessed increasing overlaps in recent years – the banking and telecommunications sectors. Thanks to the introduction of mobile money platforms, cellphone users can acquire phone credits/data without the need for purchasing paper-based scratch-cards. Similarly, with the introduction of SMS alerts highlighting the details of ATM cash withdrawals, an increasing number of bank customers no longer have to rely solely on paper receipts for real-time transaction records.

Though these examples are arguably customer service-driven innovations, they have the effect of either entirely eliminating the generation of paper waste or, at the very least, minimising its likelihood. More importantly, from a business perspective, these initiatives offer an opportunity for performance efficiency gains by reducing outlays on paper and its supply chain logistics.

Taking a more proactive stance

So, are there other avenues through which the material resources used by Ghanaian industrial and services sector businesses can be similarly reduced? One could make a case for low-hanging fruits such as food waste reduction in hotels and restaurants through reducing kitchen error in food preparation and better inventory management, for example. But for the broader Ghanaian industrial and services sectors, there are no one-size-fits-all answers – as the adopted business model changes would be dependent on the target material and how it is used by the respective businesses and their customers.

Another key consideration will be determining whether the benefits of altering operations, products and services to reduce waste generation outweigh the costs, as well as the impact such a change will have on customers’ satisfaction with the good/service being provided. Hence, it is critical to have a detailed understanding of how the management of target material resources affect a business’ bottom-line to aid in identifying avenues for waste prevention.

The matchsticks needed to start the fire

Furthermore, these avenues for promoting waste prevention will only be exploited successfully if there are viable catalysts available. In the case of the paper waste reduction examples above, mobile technology penetration in Ghana paved the way for those innovations. Any system or initiative that can be similarly exploited by stakeholders would be essential for reducing plastic and food-waste generation in the industrial and services sectors, too. If successful, the early adopters of these systems and initiatives will be better positioned in future-proofing their competitive edge.

The writer is the Director, Resource Transformation Ghana Ltd.

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