MESTI in the spotlight: an interview with Oliver Boachie
“WRF2021 is going to be fun, educative and transformative. We call on all our partners around the world to participate in it and make it a successful conference: join us in creating together the solutions we need to ensure the future prosperity of all people around the world.”
– Oliver Boachie
If we were to come up with a teaser for the upcoming WRF2021, we couldn’t possibly find better words than the ones expressed by Mr. Oliver Boachie–Special Advisor to the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) for the Republic of Ghana–to call for a wide engagement and collaboration of international partners.
After the missed opportunity to host the first WRF Conference on African soil in 2020 (due to reasons we are all familiar with…), we are honoured to have MESTI as official co-host of the World Resources Forum 2021, taking place on October 12-14, 2021, in an innovative hybrid format: three days of online sessions, and two physical hubs in Accra (Ghana) and Zurich (Switzerland). As co-host of the conference, MESTI is closely collaborating with the World Resources Forum Association to shape the overall conference program and in the planning of the physical event taking place in Accra on October 13, co-organised by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
We recently had the pleasure to sit down with Mr. Boachie in order to learn more about MESTI’s policies and projects in the area of plastic pollution and marine litter, their ambitions for developing an economy-wide circular economy framework, and how they are integrating the informal sector at the core of everything they are doing. Finally, it was the opportunity to hear MESTI’s enthusiasm about WRF2021 and what goals they would like to achieve through this international, multi-stakeholder conference.
As a matter of introduction, Mr. Boachie, let us start from the Ministry name ‘MESTI’ – a name that closely links together environment, science, technology and innovation. What’s the vision behind it?
The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation is looking at two very critical areas for national development: environmental management and the development and application of science, technology and innovation. We look at these two areas as two wings of an aeroplane – you can’t do without one or the other if you wish to foster national development. We see the environment as the source of all the resources that we have, and science, technology and innovation as the set of tools that we apply to harness those resources and make the best use of them in trying to raise the standards of living of our people.
The work of MESTI is aimed at finding solutions in a variety of directions. One of them is related to the challenges of plastic waste and marine litter. In this regard, the National Plastics Management Policy was released not too long ago. What objectives drove its formulation?
In 2018, the Ministry released a Zero Draft of Ghana’s National Plastics Management Policy, whose primary aim is to ensure a comprehensive management of plastics in order to address the country’s mounting challenge of plastic waste, and to use it as a vehicle to accelerate progress towards the SDGs. The main objectives of the policy are to achieve a clean environment that is devoid of plastic waste, to create profitable businesses that work along the plastics value chain, to create sustainable funding schemes, to raise awareness in our population and to educate them about their responsibilities as citizens in the fight against the menace of marine litter and plastic pollution. The policy also aims at improving the standards of living of our people—especially of those involved in activities in the informal sector, and of women and children—and at establishing an economy-wide model for a circular economy regime in Africa.
What activities are in place to ensure such ambitious objectives are reached?
The policy received cabinet approval in May 2020, even though it was released as the Zero Draft in 2018. In order to achieve the objectives of the policy, it was envisioned the need to establish a secretariat at the Ministry that would be fully responsible for coordinating all the activities related to its implementation. Among other things, the Resource Recovery Secretariat will support and incentivise new and existing actors and entrepreneurs within the plastics value chain to join international efforts to achieve a comprehensive plastics management across the nation.
The policy has become the foundation for a very valuable partnership that has been established between Ghana and the World Economic Forum under the Global Plastics Action Partnership Initiative. The goal of the partnership is to translate the objectives of the policy into actual activities on the ground, so that all the projects and activities being undertaken under the national plastics action partnership are designed and being coordinated to achieve the policy objectives.
Which actors are involved in this international partnership?
We managed to put together a wide variety of stakeholders, including countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada—who are active members of the Steering Board—and multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Dow, who are key actors when it comes to plastics packaging in the country. We also have a combination of various ministerial sectors, including the Ministries of Sanitation and Water Resources, Local Government, Finance, Fisheries and Aquaculture Development. All of them are partnering with local companies, the Association of Ghana Industries, Plastics Manufacturers Association and other private sector entities coming together with NGOs and academia. In all, there are 21 institutions sitting on the Steering Board, and they are supported by the Technical Committee, whose members have the practical knowledge about what happens within the value chain and who are appointed by members of the Steering Board.
What results has this wide collaboration already achieved?
Due to this collaboration involving so many international representatives, Ghana has already received a lot of recognition on a global scale. In the last three months, Ghana has joined Germany, Ecuador and Vietnam in leading a global effort to develop a comprehensive, binding agreement for nations that is similar to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, in order to address the menace of marine litter and plastic pollution. On the 1st and 2nd September 2021, the four countries are convening a conference in Geneva with the support of UNEP, where we are bringing all nations together to discuss the components of such agreement, how we can bind together to tackle the menace of plastic pollution and marine litter as a global challenge, using countries, regions and all the resources that have been brought forward by nations, foundations and institutions around the world.
I think at the global level, Ghana has been achieving quite a bit already, and we are now focusing on solving challenges related to activities on the ground. We have adopted both a top-down and a bottom-up approach, where the top-down approach is what I just described.
What does the bottom-up approach look like?
We are building a system, an infrastructure and a pilot project to start collecting plastics in a very well-organised and comprehensive manner—both on land and along our beaches. For this purpose, we are creating two large sorting centres, where all these plastics will be brought and sorted into the various fractions, using modern technology. This exercise has just begun – we are now looking at securing the land in two places within the greater Accra area, and then bringing in the necessary equipment together with the private sector to set up these facilities and start with this pilot project.
At the same time, we are also developing an electronic register, which will eventually be part of an elaborate Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, which will have a list of all those who are putting plastics of any kind onto our market, whether they are importing them or producing them here. In this way, we can begin to know who is putting what, in what volumes, and of what types, and we’ll be able to hold them accountable, as they have to be responsible for the resources that we need to be able to manage the waste that their products are creating. I’m very sure that when we combine this with what we are achieving at the international level, Ghana is going to be doing very well in the months and years ahead.
What role do you envision for the informal sector within this overarching framework, and what actions have you planned in this respect?
In Ghana, the informal sector accounts for about 70%, if not more, of actors within the plastics value chain. Therefore, this is not a segment you can ignore by any stretch of imagination. The integration of the informal sector and a strong commitment to gender equity and inclusivity are some of the key outcomes that we are seeking to achieve. So we are making sure that under the National Plastics Partnership, informal sector organisations are fully represented, their voices are heard and their inputs are taken into consideration in any program we initiate in the management of plastics.
We are also trying to make it easy for them to be able to do their work, by supporting them with the provision of personal protective equipment when they are working—such as gloves they can use for collecting materials—and by establishing strategically located, buy-back centres in neighbourhoods very close to them. In this way, they won’t find it difficult to collect and bring what they collect to the centres, where they will be paid in a fair and competitive manner – being motivated to continue to do their work.
Finally, in order to make it even easier for them, we are automating the process along the value chain, by creating a digital platform with an electronic register that includes not only those who are polluting, but also those who are collecting, those who are buying the waste, and those who are recycling it. On a daily basis, we’ll be able to publish the buying rates of various plastic products that have been collected. We are using this platform to create an e-commerce solution, so that they will be able to train as well as be able to invoice and get paid based on electronic payment systems. We are also making sure that we are monitoring their welfare and we can provide services such as national health insurance and social security payments. We have them at the heart of everything we are doing.
Alongside plastic waste, another prominent waste stream that will be discussed at WRF2021 is e-waste. Is the approach and strategy for e-waste management similar to the one you just presented for plastics?
Exactly. Our Ministry is responsible for the management of e-waste as well, even though most of the activities in this area are being undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2016, Ghana passed the Hazardous and electronic waste control and management act (Act 917), which requires producers and importers to register with EPA and pay a levy on imported electronics. Following the polluter pays principle, we would have an inspection agency that under normal circumstances would inspect all electronic products that are coming to Ghana and levy a fee ahead of a shipment from the exporting country.
However, we realise that most of the electronic equipment that ends up in Ghana does not come through these formal processes, but through third-party intermediary agents. So we had to make sure that also those that do not pay before products are shipped, pay at the port before they are able to clear their goods. These collected levies form part of the fund that is being used to develop infrastructure and build the capacity of actors within the value chain, integrating also informal sector actors.
How do the pilot projects you are leading in different areas relate to a broader vision for the adoption of a circular economy framework in Ghana?
Currently, we are starting with plastics, but ultimately we want to use that just as a pilot to develop the framework, so that it can be easily adopted to manage electronic waste as well. Later this framework will be applied to other resources, such as textiles, food and the built environment. We are doing it in a very systematic way so that all these different resource streams are going to be covered as well.
Coming to WRF2021, officially co-hosted by the Ghanaian Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), what’s the message you’d like to send on behalf of Ghana to international stakeholders through this conference?
First of all, I think the WRF 2021 is going to be a fantastic opportunity and a platform of engagement for all those who are interested in the environment and the way the nations of the world are managing their resources. The world’s resources are finite and if we continue with business as usual—in the way we are using them now—there is going to be a time where the growing population of the world and the current patterns of consumption will result in total catastrophe for humankind.
This is why Ghana is partnering with the rest of the international community to address plastic pollution and marine litter, and we are looking at creating a circular economy framework. We believe that in the years ahead this is going to be an economic model that will save humankind. We are taking the leap to showcase what is good and what is bad, so that we can become a model for the rest of Africa.
We are also looking at sustainable consumption and production in areas such as mining. Ghana has a lot of challenges when it comes to small-scale gold mining and the problems that it has created for the environment. We don’t want to conceal anything that is happening, but we want to let the world know that we are taking steps that are necessary to solve environmental and social issues in a comprehensive manner. And we are calling the world to join us in doing that.