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The 'Tidy Up Mount Afadja' group around the new sign at the start of the trail

Fighting Rubbish in Ghana

What do you get when a lawyer and environmental scientist trek a mountain in Ghana covered with rubbish?.. the 'Tidy Up Mount Afadja' project!

Australian volunteers Rebecca King and Joanne Lau were disappointed during a recent trip to Mount Afadja in Ghana, where piles of plastic rubbish marred the otherwise spectacular landscape. The pair tell us about a group cleaning effort they organised along the track, and plans to keep the site clean.

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Australian volunteers Rebecca King (front row, second from right) and Joanne Lau (front row, third from right) with their new sign at the summit of Mount Afadja

Shopping in Ghana has been a markedly different experience from shopping in Australia, not just because we are now purchasing bright and wildly patterned fabrics, giant snails, and kontomire (Ghana's answer to kale?), but because we are usually confronted with offers of at least two or three separate plastic bags in which to take our purchases home. Arriving from Australia - a land of reusable bags - our confusion about this common Ghanaian practice has been compounded by the amount of plastic rubbish littering urban streets and rural landscapes, and the littering by Ghanaians and expats alike.

We have been comforted to some extent by seeing school children pick up rubbish (although it is as punishment), and the occasional chastisement by Ghanaians of those who have flung their plastic 'pure water' sachets out the window of a tro tro (public mini bus). However, our concern peaked when we visited Mount Afadja, the highest free standing mountain in Ghana.

While hiking the trail to the 885m summit of Mount Afadja, we stepped around numerous plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and wrappers. The peak itself was also covered by plastic rubbish and even featured a rubbish dumping ground tucked to one side. The amount of rubbish at such a significant natural landmark was disappointing, particularly as a friendly sign down at the park office reminds hikers to not litter.

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Helpers picking up rubbish at the top of Mount Afadja in Ghana

We couldn't resist our Australian 'do the right thing, put it in the bin' mentality and on our descent we picked up some of the rubbish to dispose of at the base of the mountain. It was heartening to receive encouragement and thanks from several local tourists and park officials, and this sparked an idea to contribute further. Thus, the 'Tidy Up Mount Afadja' project was born.

In addition to our Australian Volunteer for International Development assignments, we organised a small group trip from Accra to Mount Afadja with the objective to pick up more of the rubbish. Rebecca was also able to secure corporate sponsorship from a logistics company operating in her Ghanaian home of Takoradi, allowing us to design and purchase two signs, one to be placed at the start of the trail, and the other at the summit. The signs again urge hikers to not litter: 'If you can carry it up, you can carry it down. Please take your rubbish with you'. The Mount Afadja park officials were extremely supportive of our initiative.

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Picking up rubbish with a view

The trip took place on a weekend in November 2014, and a group of 12 adults, including fellow Australian volunteers and other expats, plus one almost three year old, hiked up Ghana's highest peak, eagerly put gloves on, and picked up more than a dozen large rubbish bags - approximately 80kg of plastic rubbish. Our park guide and tro tro driver even joined in and helped fill the bags. The rubbish was taken to the park office at the base of the mountain and was disposed of by park officials.

We have planned a monitoring and evaluation trip in the future but in the meantime Rebecca has maintained momentum by co-organising the 'Tidy Tadi (Takoradi) Fun Run'. The event will be held later this month, and seeks to raise awareness about the overuse of plastic bags and will provide reusable fabric bags (eco-bags!) to participants and subsidised bags for sale in local supermarkets.

While we understand the many limits of our initiative, we hope that these efforts will go towards an increased awareness and heightened value of the beautiful Ghanaian environment, particularly the importance of properly disposing of plastic rubbish.

 

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