On August 16, 2019 the Kpone engineered landfill (in Accra, Ghana) site was in flames and about 300 waste pickers had to be relocated to an abandoned dumpsite nearby. The workers never returned to the Kpone Landfill site because, in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and without consultation with waste pickers, the landfill decommissioning was abruptly initiated and no resettlement plan was put in place for the waste pickers. The fire outbreak, the pandemic and the decommissioning of the landfill concretised our fears of loss of picker livelihood. These however, provided further impetus for the development of doorstep waste collection proposal and a cooperative.
The waste pickers were ejected from the landfill site left without safeguards or alternative livelihoods outside the landfill. WIEGO stepped in to support the waste Kpone waste pickers to reimagine an alternative livelihood outside the dumpsite. Community scoping was done to identify gaps in waste collection at the Kpone Coastal Community. The community faced serious challenges with solid waste management.
WIEGO has been running solid waste management (SWM) training workshops with the association since early 2019, to orient the pickers on the global trends and threats to their livelihood. These have emphasized the need for the pickers to think of alternative livelihoods outside the dumpsite considering that the current dumpsite where they work is insecure. It was a hard sell initially to get the pickers to imagine alternative waste picking outside the landfill site where they had built bonds of relationships over decades; the dumpsite was not only a workplace but a community of family and friends. While the training workshops were important learning platform, a more experiential learning approach was required to further deepen the waste pickers understanding of doorstep collection.
As a result, WIEGO supported the waste pickers to undertake two pilot waste collection exercises in February and August 2020. Thirty of the Kpone waste pickers volunteered to be part of the pilot exercises. The pilot waste collections were designed to help the waste pickers gain experience in collective organising, collect data to inform the proposal for doorstep collection, and to figure out if doorstep collection was a service they would like to/be able to provide as a cooperative. The outcomes of the pilot collection were encouraging and insightful. Contrary to waste pickers’ initial apprehension that the collection exercise would draw negative attention to their work as dirty, the local residents and community leaders responded positively by cooperating with waste pickers and showing support by providing free water and drinks to waste pickers on the day of the pilot.
The results from the pilot waste collections were used to develop a proposal for doorstep waste collection. The Kpone waste picker association on 15th July 2021 organized stakeholder engagement with community leaders and officials of Kpone Katamanso Municipal Assembly in which the results pilot collection and key highlights of the proposal were shared with them. The waste pickers then made some key demands such as service contract, land and sorting centre to enable them execute the proposal for doorstep collection. This stakeholder engagement was to mark a significant shift in the doorstep collection proposal development. All along the team had been working on the assumption that the Kpone Waste Picker Association would be the umbrella organisation to execute any doorstep waste collection. It was at this engagement that it became obvious that the municipal authority would only grant a waste collection contract when they form a cooperative.
The Accra WIEGO team supporting the waste pickers had no experience in waste-picker based cooperative development. There was also no example of a waste picker cooperative in Ghana that they could learn from. The question that the team had to confront was: how do we co-design a waste picker cooperative that suits Kpone waste pickers and broadly fits in the Ghanaian context. The Accra Focal City team and the waste pickers had to do two things in this regard. First the team and the waste pickers had to learn from the WIEGO’s Global waste team of their experiences in cooperative development, particularly, from the Brazilian and Indian examples. Second, the officials of the Department of Cooperatives had to be engaged to take the team and the waste pickers through the legal regime of cooperative formation in Ghana, the steps the waste pickers have to follow in order to register a cooperative.
The officials of the Department of Cooperative helped the waste pickers to develop their bye-laws and internal regulations and finally the Green Waste Pickers Cooperative Society was officially registered on 15th August 2022 and publicly launched on 2nd September, 2022 at Kpone dumpsite.
The journey has not been smooth riding. Only 10% of about 300 waste pickers at the Kpone dumpsite are official members of the cooperative (i.e. share capital holders). More importantly, the Green Waste Pickers Cooperative Society will require a waste collection contract but there is uncertainty surrounding the willingness of the government to grant this. The leadership of the cooperative will need to negotiate effectively with the municipal authority for a service contract. They will, however, need training in negotiation and effective communication in order to effectively advocate for a waste collection contract.
Regardless of these teething challenges, the Green Waste Picker Cooperative Society Ltd is the first ever waste picker based cooperative in Ghana; made possible through a co-learning process with the waste pickers, WIEGO’s global waste team and the Department of Cooperatives, Ghana.