Investigating University Students’ Knowledge and Practices towards Appropriate Solid Waste Management Practices in the Greater Accra Region, Ghana

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2017

16 Pages

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Results and discussion

Discussion and Conclusion



Inappropriate solid waste management practices in universities in developing countries constitute one of the major factors leading to declining health conditions among people in these institutions. This study assesses the knowledge on waste management and prevailing waste management practices of university students in Accra, Ghana. A simple random sampling technique was used to select one public university and one private university for the study. Three hundred (n=300) students, with150 from each university formed the analytical sample. Data collected was reported using descriptive statistics. The findings reveal inadequate and inappropriate placement of waste bins and the lack of awareness on proper solid waste practices to hinder solid waste management in the study areas. Furthermore, majority of respondents, 94.6% and 93.3% in the public and private universities respectively were willing to separate their waste when the necessary logistics are provided. Hence, it is recommended that environmental education be included in institutional curricular to enhance knowledge levels on appropriate waste management practices. Also, logistics necessary for waste sorting should be provided to students in these institutions to aid in proper waste management.

Keywords: Waste Management, Awareness, Recycle, Waste Separation, Accra


Municipal solid waste collection, treatment and/or disposal remain a challenge to many cities in the world (Grimm et al., 2008; Jacobi & Besen, 2011). As reported by Hoornweg & Bhada-Tata (2012), world cities are producing about 1.3 billion tons of solid waste annually and this is projected to reach 2.2 billion by 2025. In recognition of this, improved sanitation through appropriate waste management has being prioritized in major Global developmental agendas including the Sustainable Development Goals (SGD). Similar to many other development indicators, developed countries seem to have succeeded in managing solid waste effectively and have now shifted focus on minimizing environmental pollution and maximizing resource recovery whiles countries in the developing world, including Ghana continue to struggle with basic collection and disposal issues. Municipal solid waste management seeks to protect the health of populations and the environment whiles providing resources for sustainable development. Poor municipal solid waste management in developing countries is epitomized in inappropriate dump sites, which are often located close to residential facilities. This proximity to residential spaces has been associated with disease outbreaks including cholera, acute respiratory infections and malaria (WHO, 2013). Unsurprisingly therefore, within the city of Accra, Ghana, diseases associated with poor sanitation including cholera, diarrhea, intestinal worms, upper respiratory infections amongst others remain the most common health problems reported at the out-patient facilities. For instance, In 2014, 20,219 cases of cholera were reported in the Greater Accra region of Ghana resulting in 121 deaths (GHS, 2015).

Ghana like many developing countries has not benefited fully from the resource potential of solid waste despite the availability of policies on waste management. An Environmental Sanitation Policy was formulated in 1999 and revised in 2010 to guide waste management practices. The revised policy promotes reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of all types of waste streams as a way of minimizing the volume and cost of managing waste. As such, autonomous institutions have the key role in adopting the policy in applicable areas for proper management and safe disposal of waste as a whole. Accordingly, these findings similar to previous studies report varied waste management practices adopted by institutions in developing countries such as reuse, landfill and recycle with different acceptance levels (Hoornweg & Bhada-Tata, 2012; Mbuligwe, 2002; Oteng-Ababio, 2014).The increasing dislocation between policy and practice in waste management in Ghanahas been attributed to two fundamental reasons; the wrongful conceptualization and operationalization of what constitute solid waste and the inability of city authorities to develop appropriate solid waste management policies that can best utilize these resource potentials (Grant & Oteng-Ababio, 2012). This situation is exacerbated by high population growth, weak operational capacities of the municipal authorities, inadequate financial resources and limited community participation in strategic waste management plans and projects (Oteng-Ababio, 2014). The resultant effects of such barriers are uncontrolled and inappropriate dumping of waste most of which end up in open drains and subsequently blocking them (UN-HABITAT 2010). Whiles recognizing these structural barriers to waste management in Ghana, empirical evidence elsewhere indicate that individual attitudes remain relevant to successful and appropriate waste management (Bradley, Waliczek, & Zajicek, 1999; Eagles & Demare, 1999). For instance, the efficacy of waste sorting and segregation at household levels, the initial process for any proper waste management process and subsequent disposal depends on positive attitudes towards clean environment. Given this recognition, Gallagher, Wheeler, McDonough, & Namfa (2000) posit that environmental programs for public sensitization, if properly done, will influence the environmental knowledge, attitude and behavior of people towards the environment. Unfortunately, there remains endemic negative attitude towards proper waste management in many developing countries including Ghana.

While the uptake and participation in various waste management methods vary among individuals in Ghana, little is known about the underlying factors that influence waste management attitudes among individual’s cities. More importantly, among the few studies, none has prioritized educational institutions despite the need for them to be healthy and safe places for learning. Again, the situation is more compelling as increasing streams of waste including plastic, paper, electronic, food and sewage are generated by these institutions to which collection and treatment remain a major problem. For instance, in the UG, the Environmental Health Service Department and a contracted waste management company mandated to manage its waste is able to collect only 35% of the total waste generated on campus (Gbogbo & Awotwe-Pratt, 2008). Out of the total collected, 60% is disposed at landfill sites/dumpsites while the remaining 40% is deposited on unauthorized refuse dumps (Gbogbo & Awotwe-Pratt, 2008) This study therefore focuses on Ghanaian educational institutions as a case study to investigate students’ perception of solid waste disposal, solid waste management practices and the challenges faced with regards to managing waste. Selection of educational institutions is because these institutions have over the years generated large quantities of varied waste due to their large population sizes (Azimi Jibril et al., 2012; Zhang, Williams, Kemp, & Smith, 2011). Given that universities are a microcosm of the national population with students from various localities of Ghana, situating our analysis in these institutions lends our study an all-inclusive national picture on knowledge regarding waste. Being single decision-making entities that seek to promote sustainability in societies, they are expected to be pacesetters in waste management (Mbuligwe, 2002). Notwithstanding this, waste management remains a challenge to these institutions particularly in developing countries (Iojă, Onose, Grădinaru, & Şerban, 2012). An exploration of solid waste management practices amongst Ghanaian educational institutions will add to the literature on waste management practices and challenges in developing countries and particularly educational institutions. Additionally, this study will help inform waste management policies both at the university and national levels.


Study context

In this study, we draw data on students’ knowledge and experiences on waste management practices from two case study institutions; the University of Ghana(UG) and Central University College (CUC) in Accra. University of Ghana is the first and largest public university in the country, founded through an ordinance in 1948 for the purpose of providing higher education and augmenting research.. Its student population has grown from 682 in 1961 to 38,562 in 2012 with the number of employees also increasing from 4 in 1961 to 6203 in 2012 (University of Ghana Basic Statistics, 2012). The Central University College, founded by the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) is among the first private universities to be established in the country. It started off as a pastoral training institute in 1988 and metamorphosed into a Central Bible College by June 1991. It later became the Central Christian College in 1993 and eventually the Central University College in 1997. The CUC was set up to provide an integrated and biblically-based tertiary education with particular emphasis on the needs of the African continent. CUC has a current student population of 8,400 and 571 workers 9 ( Both UG and CUC are in the city of Accra which is located on the coastal lines of the Gulf of Guinea on longitude 0˚ 10' West and latitude 5˚ 36' North. The climate is tropical with alternating dry and wet seasons. The dry season is marked from November to March whiles the wet season occurs from June to September with annual rainfall less than 1000 mm. It is worth mentioning that, both dry and wet climatic conditions of the study area hold critical implications for waste management. In the dry season often characterized by strong harmattan winds with the potential of scattering improperly disposed waste. Similarly, runoff in the peak rainfall season carry solid waste into drains and surface water sources resulting in pollution flooding which has claimed many lives in recent times in Accra. Humidity is about 80 percent during the wet season and drop to 70 percent in the dry season (Ghana Meteorological Agency, 2010).

At the CUC, the Estate Department is responsible for handling environmental, sanitation and waste management issues among others. All waste generated are often collected and transported to landfills on a regular basis by a contracted private waste company. Sources of waste in these institutions include packaging materials, papers, pens, food remains, glass, old clothes, computers, metals, wood, medicine and plastics. Street bins are used as institutional arrangement for waste collection.

Data collection and analytical methods

This study used surveys, in-depth interviews and field observations to assess the knowledge and attitude of university students towards solid waste management in Accra, Ghana. The study used a multistage sampling technique to select respondents. First, two (2) universities, namely UG and CUC were randomly selected from public and private universities in Accra respectively to form the study areas. Subsequently, one hundred and fifty (150) students were randomly selected from each of these two universities to form the analytical sample. To assess level of awareness and concerns of waste disposal, respondents were asked how frequent information on waste management is received. The question “from whom did you get information on proper waste disposal practices?” was asked respondents who had indicated that they received information on waste management practices to ascertain sources of waste management information in the study area. Findings from surveys are reported using descriptive statistics (see de Vega, Benítez, & Barreto, 2008; Sujauddin, Huda, & Hoque, 2008). In addition, estates department officials (n=8) responsible for waste management of the respective institutions as well as janitors (n=4) were purposively sampled and interviewed to solicit information on solid waste management practices. Interviews were conducted in English, audio recorded, transcribed and coded by two independent researchers to ensure reliability. Responses were interpreted by looking at emerging patterns or themes. Field observations were conducted on the two institutions to assess their esthetic quality and solid waste is management practices.

Results and discussion

Sanitation in UG and CUC

Field observations in the two universities reveal disparate waste management practices and commitment levels between the UG and CUC. It was evident there are drawbacks in the practice of proper waste management among public university students compared to the private university. In the UG, trash bins were mostly lacking and in places where they are available, they were improperly placed, potentially explaining the widespread littering and indiscriminate dumping of refuse (see Figure 1). Although bins were frequently emptied, some, especially those located near bus stops and along pedestrian walkways in UG were seen overflowing probably because of the larger number of people using these areas (see Figure 2). Astonishingly, most of these trash bins were left uncovered with wind frequently blowing off trash, particularly plastic bags. This essentially derails efforts made to sanitize the environment. Similar to many large refuse dumps or garbage disposal areas, vultures were often seen around dump sites on the UG campus depicting poor sanitation.

Contrary to CUC, field observations at, reveal relatively minimal littering. The relatively sanitized environment in this institution could be attributed to the proper provision and location of trash bins (approximately 50 meter interval) for easy access. Unlike the UG, storage bins were covered and emptied regularly. Overall, the CUC campus was tidy, an indication that proper location of bins promotes convenience in waste disposal from the source, enhances easier and timely collection of waste and ultimately, efficient waste management. By implication, institutional commitments play a significant role in proper solid waste management in Ghanaian educational institutions. The use of street bins as an institutional arrangement needs to be carefully planned in order to satisfy the needs of the people. This is consistent with previous findings that location and convenience are important for safe disposal of waste (see Ludwig, Gray, & Rowell, 1998; Oteng-Ababio, 2010).

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Figure 1: A refuse dumpsite in UG

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Figure 2: Overflowing street bin in UG

Major generated waste and disposal systems

The waste types generated and the method of waste disposal are illustrated in Figure 3. Food waste was the major waste generated in both universities and hence was frequently disposed compared to other waste types. This is not surprising given the significance of food to our daily livelihoods. Plastic waste was also found to be the second largest waste type disposed of by students on a daily basis. This could be explained by the widespread use of plastics in areas such as food packaging and transportation of goods and services in many parts of Ghana and developing countries at large. Expectedly, paper was the third largest material discarded by students daily and this may be attributed to the larger volumes of paper used in academic institutions in developing countries. This waste spectrum in these institutions is an indication of the high potential for recycling and composting of waste aside the longstanding practice of open dumping that characterize the waste management sytems.

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Figure 3: Waste type and the frequency of disposal

Respondents were asked how waste was disposed of on their respective campuses. From Table 1, waste bins provided by the institutions are the most common methods in use for disposing of waste in the two institutions under study. A total of 82% of respondents in the public institution disposed of waste using bins while those in private institution, 98% of respondents adopted waste bins as method for disposing of waste. The study therefore revealed that at the public institution, bins may not be easily accessed by students. As such, students resort to other methods of waste disposal such as open dumping. Respondents were further asked to give reasons for the disposal method adopted. Their responses are summarized in table 2.

Table 1: Waste disposal methods

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Reasons for waste disposal methods

Convenience, availability of waste disposal containers, distance and peer pressure were the major reasons reported by respondents in both institutions under study as factors influencing their choice of waste disposal practices. Accessibility to waste disposal containers was a very important consideration by most respondents. Sixty four percent (64%) of respondents in UG indicated street bins were not easily accessible as a result of long distances between bins as well as their improper siting while 80% of respondents in CUC said bins were easily accessible since street bins were sited 50 meters apart and were available almost everywhere. Our findings are indicative of the fact that, waste management attitudes in a given places mirrors the suitability of the waste collection strategies provided. Thus, respondents used the available waste disposal methods adopted by the institutions. Furthermore, peer pressure was also identified as a factor that contributed to the waste disposal methods adopted by respondents. The study revealed that, respondents imitated the waste disposal practices adopted by their colleagues and they see it as a norm once their actions are not questioned by authorities of the institutions. This can be seen from the fact that one person drops a piece of waste on the ground and within couple of hours this spot turns into a heap of waste.

Table 2: Reasons for the choice of disposal practice

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Awareness levels and waste management information

Appropriate waste management is dependent on awareness on the need for proper waste management practices including permissible dumping and regular collection of refuse given its effects on attitudes (Wright, 2002). Both indiscriminate disposal and irregular collection of waste stemming from negative environmental attitudes have been cited in literature to militate against efforts at managing waste in many areas (Ayotamuno & Gobo, 2004; Babayemi & Dauda, 2009). Nonetheless, the study findings reveal low education regarding proper disposal practices by institutions (something that a considerable number of respondents expected from their respective institutions) with less than 10% of respondents in UG and CUC acknowledging receipt of information or education on the environment from the institution’s authorities (see Figure 1). Although educational institutions serve as avenues for knowledge generation, capacity building and awareness creation , little has been done to educate students on sanitation and waste disposal practices.. This may have adverse implications on people’s attitudes towards proper disposal of waste. As confirmed by a janitor;

“it takes less than an hour for the swept grounds to be littered again, especially, during special occasions and ceremonies.”(Janitor 35, female)

This poor attitude towards the environment among patrons of these universities can largely be attributed to the lack of awareness on the impacts of their action on the environment to which inadequate public education on waste disposal and sanitation in general play an important role. This is problematic given that tertiary institutions are largely dominated by the educated in society who are expected to have some basic environmental knowledge and positive environmental attitudes. The Environmental, Health Services Unit and the Estate Department Unit of UG and CUC respectively are seen as leaders in matters concerning waste management and sanitation issues. Even though the units primarily seek to keep the environment clean and healthy through the provision and delivery of effective and efficient waste management services and programs, attaining these goals have been marred with drawbacks including lack of education and the inability to enforce necessary bye- laws and regulations. According to an authority in charge of waste management at the UG:

“There is no formalized program to educate people about sanitation in the Universities. I believe it is about time environmental and sanitation programs be made part of the curriculum..” (Interviewee 40, male)

Another officer in charge of Environment, Health and Sanitation in UG however did not think the problem had so much to do with education as with law enforcement. According to him:

“We can embark on educational campaigns, but I do believe that enforcing the bye laws is most needed, because every sane person knows that throwing garbage indiscriminately is not proper. But in this institution, you can see educated people throwing garbage all around. So I do not think it is an issue of educating people, but it is an issue of enforcing the bye-laws.” (Officer in charge of Environment, Health and Sanitation in UG, 50, male)

Previous studies have also attributed low awareness levels on appropriate solid waste management practices to lack of commitment by relevant authorities in many developing countries (Sosu, McWilliam, & Gray, 2008; Wright, 2002). Thus, lack of commitment potentially results in the failure of institutions’ authorities to sensitize the populace on good waste disposal methods as well as provide logistics necessary for appropriate waste management. Family and friends remain key to information and knowledge transfer in many traditional Ghanaian societies (Figure 3). For instance, within households, individuals are taught and encouraged to keep their environment clean and this is very much revealed during childhood where children are tasked to sweep homes and empty trash on regular basis. Furthermore, Ghana has a vibrant media, which has over the years prioritized environmental and waste management education and sensitization programs. Environmental activist also use these platforms for sensitization and education programs given their ability to reach out to many listeners. Waste management commercials are run on these platforms to sensitize people on proper waste practices. These, amongst others possibly explain the crucial role media plays as a source of waste management information to students in both universities.

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Figure 4: Sources of information on waste management among students

Preference for waste management methods

The successful implementation this waste management policy however is dependent on people’s preference and acceptance of the various waste management methods. Thus, acceptance of waste management method is critical for the successful and sustainable management of waste. In UG, whiles 62.7% of respondents prefer food waste to be landfilled, only 6% prefer food waste to be reused (Table 3). Findings were similar to that of the CUC with 68% and 4.7% of respondents preferring food waste to be landfilled and reused respectively. Largely, preference levels for the various waste management practices were fairly uniform between the two institutions. Preference for landfill of food waste could be associated with the unpleasant stench emanating from decomposing food waste (Gbogbo & Awotwe-Pratt, 2008). Additionally, inadequate knowledge on reuse of food waste and its attendant benefits could possibly influence such preference.

Consistent with recommendations on managing electronic waste (see Kiddee, Naidu, & Wong, 2013; Oteng-Ababio, 2014), recycling is reported as the preferred method for managing such waste in both UG (48.7%) and CUC (49.3%) as shown in Table 1. Much worrisome is the significant number of students from both universities who do not know their preferred methods for disposing electronic waste. For instance, whereas 34% of respondents in UG did not have preference for disposing e-waste, the proportion of students without preferred disposal system of e-waste at the CUC was 32.7%. The implications of this are improper disposal of electronic waste and its attendant effects on the environment and health. This is very worrisome given the recent influx of electronic waste into Ghana coupled with high patronage of electronics in the various tertiary institutions (Oteng-Ababio, 2010). These findings suggest little attention has been paid to e-waste management in these institutions and the city at large.

Table 3: Preference for waste management method

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Waste sorting amongst students as a waste management method

When asked what would motivate them to separate waste if they had the opportunity to separate waste in their respective institutions (Table 4), majority (94.6%) of respondents in the public university under study agreed to separate their waste when motivated by making the necessary logistics available. Similarly, majority (93.3%) of respondents in the private university under study also agreed to separate their waste when provided with the needed logistics. It is therefore not surprising that 84% of respondents in public university believed that separation of waste adds value to waste resources. Similarly, 88% of respondents in private university are also of the view that separation of waste adds value to waste resources. This therefore suggests that separation of waste may be easily and fully participate by students in both public and private institutions. Moreover, when respondents were asked if they would expect any economic gain from separating their waste in their respective institutions, 44.6% of respondents in the public university under study gave negative responses, 38% of respondents gave positive responses and the remaining 17.3% were undecided (see Table 2). Similarly, in private university, 44% of respondents disagreed to receive any economic incentive from the school authorities, 38% of respondents, however agreed to receive economic benefits for separating their waste and the remaining 18% were undecided. This therefore suggests that, students may be willing to participate in a waste separation program if one were made available in their institutions. This reveals that majority of respondents in the study expressed willingness to participate in waste separation and waste management activities in their respective institutions. They however requested for logistics to be put in place for separation of waste to be done. This therefore shows that both the public and private institutions have failed to put the necessary systems in place for the practice of separation of waste. This failure may be due to but not limited to financial and infrastructural constraints as well as low commitments of school authorities towards environmental and waste management.

There is a scheme in place to divert mostly examination papers from being landfilled in both institutions of study. Examination papers are given out to Super Paper Company Limited (paper recycling company) to recycle into tissue paper. However, not much attention is given to daily-generated waste paper from other activities besides examination which include photocopying, printing, mails, student’s assignments and packages. Waste from these activities and other activities such as food are put in a single bin provided by the institutions. This act of mixing all kinds of waste in a single bin results in combination of relevant waste resources such as paper. These activities if given attention through the practice of providing multiple bins for waste separation to be done, could help in diverting most waste resources from ending up at the landfills or dumpsites while saving and generating revenue.

Table 4. Practice s

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Discussion and Conclusion

While the effects of waste management transcends littering, to health concerns arising from pollution of water sources by improperly managed waste, individual and community level attitudes and ways to shape them remain relevant to sustainable waste management. In line with findings of this study, we argue that, a common disjuncture between waste management and attitudinal approaches towards waste is the lack of knowledge on proper waste management standards. Connected to this observation, while previous studies have linked the poor waste management to lack of logistics particularly collection bins, the proper citing of these equipment has not been emphasized. While this may be linked to the general situation of poverty which yields bin insufficiency in most localities in Ghana, salient questions relating to where and how these bins are placed influences peoples waste disposal choices. These gaps partly emanate from the lack of monitoring by stakeholders as in the case of the UG. Akin to the observation of Longe et al., (2009), public perception and attitude on solid waste management systems is underscored poor monitoring of waste management service providers. Outside the frequently highlighted dialectics in waste management including the lack of funding and governmental initiative and inadequate logistics (Oteng-Ababio, 2014) among other factors, we argue that, much of the solid waste management challenges relates to poor management of the few available systems as demonstrated through the poor siting of waste management facilities in our study. Again, despite the centrality of knowledge in influencing health behaviours and choices in general, its role in influencing waste management practices in Ghana has not been fully explored. Beyond the economic considerations, we maintain that, there is the need to widen the scope of the search for solutions to the waste problem to include issues related to awareness creation and human empowerment at the community level. This is consistent with the observation of Barterlings & Sterner (1999) that economic incentives, although important, are not the only driving force behind appropriate waste management. Waste management initiatives must incorporate critical and context sensitive approaches to identify salient underlying challenges to waste management. In conclusion, although participants understand improper waste management as a major environmental problem in their institutions, unsustainable behaviours and practices by especially in the public university were apparent due to lack of awareness on proper waste management practices, inadequate bins and improper placement of bins. The study has revealed the need for behavioral and attitudinal change which is essential for effective participation in waste reduction, reuse and recycling. Environmental education should be included in the curriculum and this should be supported by providing the needed logistics for separation of waste to be carried out in institutions. This will have positive nation-wide ramifications as it holds the potential for effective knowledge transfer as students come from households across all regions of the country. This practice if properly carried out can result in value addition to institutional waste resources to generate revenue while saving the environment from pollution.


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