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Gbalahi Landfill Effects on the Environment

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3862 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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Beyond Technical Description: the State of the Gbalahi Landfill and its Effects on the Environment.



1.0. Introduction

One critical area of governance that has received huge investment in the developing world, especially in African countries in the last decade, is the social sector. However, in Africa, south of the Sahara, investment in the provision of social services is skewed towards health care and education with little going to environmental sanitation. This is in spite of the fact that African governments identified waste as the second most important problem after water quality (Senkoro, 2003) and also, the rapid urbanisation that the region is experiencing. Africa is said to have the highest rates of urbanisation in the world as more people live in urban centres (UN-Habitat, 2006). Although this offers economic opportunities, it also poses daunting environmental challenges in view of the fact that anthropogenic activities and rate of urbanisation are the factors that have been acknowledged to influence waste generation rates; the World Bank (2012) has observed that the higher the economic development and rate of urbanisation, the greater the amount of waste that is generated.

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As a consequence, waste in urban cities in Africa have not only increased, but have also resulted in waste management problem that has become intractable and threatens to undermine the efforts of city authorities as well as threatens the environment and public health (Baabereyir, 2009). Recent studies of the waste phenomenon in Africa have shown a litany of waste management issues: poor collection and disposal resulting in waste accumulation and indiscriminate dumping into valleys, streams and rivers, open gutters, et cetera leading to chocked drains, clogged streams and stinking gutters; lack of or poor management of disposal facilities or sites, as a result, they emit serious negative externalities on the physical environment and pose serious public health concerns , especially, for nearby communities; and others that municipal authorities in cities across Africa have to grapple with (Hardoy, Mitlin & Satterthwaite, 2001; Kirondi, 1999; Onibokun & Kumuyi, 1999; and Pacione, 2005).

Against this background, it might seem today that waste management is a debilitating problem in cities in the developing world. On the contrary, studies have shown that waste management is particularly a major challenge that city authorities, the world over, face and many cities in the developed world have faced and may probably be facing still. Pacione (2005) observed that most city governments are confronted by mounting problems regarding the collection and disposal of solid waste. The problems with waste, Pacione (2005) further observed, are centred on the difficulties and high cost of disposal of the large volume generated by households and businesses in high-income countries; and collection, with between one-third and one-half of all solid waste generated remaining uncollected in lower-income countries. Girling (2005) also cited Lord Tycornnel of England in 1741 lamenting the neglect of cleanliness of which, perhaps, no part of the world affords more proof than the streets of London, a city famous for wealth, commerce and plenty and for every other kind of civility and politeness; but which abounds with such heaps of filth as a savage would look on with amazement.

In sub-Saharan Africa – seen as the last global macro-region to experience urbanisation in the twenty first century (Amoah and Kosoe, 2014) – the waste management situation seems worse as studies have shown and finds expression in city authorities’ inability to provide the entire functional elements of waste management: generation, onsite storage, collection, transfer and transport, processing and recovery and disposal of waste. As a consequence, uncontrolled (crude) dumping appears to be officially endorsed and tends to create the perception that safe disposal of waste is beyond the capacity of municipal authorities, Oteng-Ababio (2011). In Ghana, like many developing countries, uncontrolled dumping of waste had been practised until 2004 (Post, 1999) due to lack of modern waste management infrastructure as a result of low investments (Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, 2011). Consequently, the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) lack capacity and modern facilities for proper wastes management to meet international best practice that reduce the negative impacts of waste on the environment and public health. However, in 2004 Ghana took a huge step toward modern waste management practice by moving from open dumps to engineered sanitary landfills when two of such facilities were opened in Kumasi and Tamale (Oteng-Ababio, 2011).

An engineered sanitary landfill is generally considered to be a site designed, constructed and operated to minimise its effects on the environment and public health. For example, the Solid Waste Agency (2014) defined landfill as a carefully engineered and managed structure which acts as a final disposal option for waste. The World Bank (1999) elaborated further by noting that, the commonly accepted, scientific or popular, definitions of sanitary landfilling require the isolation of the wastes from the environment until rendered innocuous through biological, chemical and physical degradation processes in the landfill. Thus a sanitary landfill is different in many respects from any other landfilling method of waste disposal. Primary differences between the landfill designs used are in the completeness of isolation and methods of construction. According to the World Bank (1999) isolation from the environment can range from:

  • no isolation (e.g., open dumping)
  • partial isolation (some planned release to groundwater)
  • containment (low permeability lining within the site and collection and removal of leachate)
  • dry entombment (i.e., long-term storage in dry conditions, rather than disposal)

Thus, an engineered sanitary landfill must be managed in accord with this axiom (isolation of the waste from the environment until rendered innocuous through biological, chemical and physical degradation processes in the landfill) to prevent it from posing risk to the environment and health. To achieve this, the World Bank (1999) outlined four basic conditions that should be met by site design and operation for a landfill to be regarded as a better landfill:

Full or partial hydrogeological isolation. Preferably, a site should be located in or on low permeability geological strata to inhibit leachate migration off-site into an underlying aquifer. If this is not possible then additional materials should be brought to the site, to reduce the permeability at the base of the site. These will help control leachate movement from the waste into the groundwater and surrounding strata, and, if necessary, allow leachate to be collected for treatment.

Formal engineering preparations. A sanitary landfill should be constructed from prepared engineering designs developed from local site geological and hydrogeological investigations. Once constructed, a sanitary landfill has to be operated according to a waste disposal plan leading to a final restoration plan.

Permanent control. Sufficient numbers of trained staff should be based at the landfill to supervise and direct all preparation, site construction, and waste emplacement activities, as well as the regular operation, maintenance, and monitoring of gas and leachate control systems.

Planned waste emplacement and covering. Waste should be spread in layers and, if necessary, compacted mechanically as part of the emplacement procedure, not dumped over a cliff-like working face. Where practicable the waste should be deposited in only a small working area and covered daily to render it less accessible to pests and vermin.

EJnet.org (2003) posited that a secured landfill or an engineered sanitary landfill must have four critical elements to be successful: a bottom liner, a leachate collection system, a cover, and the natural hydrogeologic setting. The natural setting can be selected to minimise the possibility of wastes escaping to groundwater beneath a landfill. The three other elements must be engineered.

The Tamale engineered sanitary landfill is located at Gbalahi in the newly created Sagnarigu District but serves both the Tamale Metropolitan and Sagnarigu District Assemblies. The landfill is the only scientific waste receptacle in Tamale (now made up of the Tamale Metropolitan and Sagnarigu District Assemblies). The construction of the Gbalahi landfill has brought a huge sigh of relief to local authorities who hitherto had no place of disposing off their waste in a cost effective and environmentally sound manner. Thus, officialdom basks in this achievement and the landfill is seen as the best solution to the waste management challenges in Tamale. Sadly, however, the project has received negative publicity in the local media due to its management. Management of waste disposal sites seems to be a major drawback to the overall efforts of waste management and it is as challenging as the management of waste through all the other functional elements before final disposal in cities in developing countries, Ghana, and for that matter, Tamale inclusive (Coffie, 2010; Foday, Xiangbin and Quangyen, 2013; Owusu-Sekyere, Kpieta and Abdul- Kadri, 2013; Remigios, 2010; Salam Abul, 2010 & Amoah and Kosoe, 2014).

Against this background, it would seem reasonable to conclude that among the many problems that confront local authorities in Ghana, management of waste disposal sites is a particularly worrying issue that seems to overwhelm them. In fact, the problem appears intractable leading to waste burden in the cities. Many believe that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4, 5, 6 and 7 which concerns child mortality, maternal health, malaria, et cetera and environmental sustainability could not be realised by the end of 2015 in part because poor management of waste since waste disposal affects most of the issues the MDGs addressed. There is therefore an urgent call to find pragmatic measures to ensure effective management of landfill sites in Ghana. These issues invite research attention.

1.2. Statement of the problem

The problem under investigation in this research is the worsening state of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill site in Tamale and its effects on the environment. Compared to other waste disposal methods, landfill is the simplest, cheapest and most cost-effective method of disposing of waste (Barrett and Lawler, 1995), and easier to operate. As a result, in most low- to medium-income countries, landfill has become the ideal choice for final waste disposal with almost 100 per cent of generated waste going into landfills (World Health Organisation, 2006). Even in many rich countries, most waste is landfilled; according to the EEA (2003), over 75 per cent of generated waste within the European Union is landfilled.

Although landfill seems to naturally be the preferred option for final waste disposal, especially, in low- to medium-income countries, it could be a real threat to public health and the environment if not properly managed. According to Foday, Xiangbin and Quangyen (2013) poor and ineffective management of landfills turn them to sources of environmental and health hazards to people living near it. The management practice at the Gbalahi landfill site leaves much to be desired and below best practice of engineered sanitary landfill where the object is to isolate the waste from the environment until it is rendered innocuous through biological, chemical and physical processes of nature (UNEP, 2005). As a result, the landfill site is saddled with a litany of challenges including ease of access by any and everybody, non-functional scale house (a component for determining the amount of waste that the landfill receives, et cetera), fires, haphazard placement of waste especially during the raining season, irregular compaction of placed waste, non-coverage of placed waste, chocked or silted inspection chambers, scavenging or waste picking even in the working face, et cetera (Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1: Aspects of the poor management of Gbalahi Landfill in Tamale


Burning and Waste Picking at Gbalahi Landfill in Tamale

Source: Field Work, 2015

As a consequence there increased leachate production, especially during the raining season; smoke pollution; breeding of vermin; and is it impossible to know how much waste the landfill has received so far and how much more it can receive; et cetera and many believe the landfill is gradually turning into nothing more than a dump. The effects of this poor or the lack of management of the landfill site is unsightly facility, flies, odour; et cetera. These are becoming apparent as in recent times communities living proximal to and downstream the landfill site have been agitating and threatening to forcefully close it down due to what they say pollution, thus bringing into sharp focus the concepts of ‘NIMBY’ (Not In My Back Yard) and ‘LULU’ (‘location of unwanted land use’). Conditions at the site are increasingly becoming inimical to the ecosystem within its immediate surroundings as well as health risks to households living proximal.

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This situation calls for a scientific study to ascertain the state of the facility and the effects it is having on the environment. Unfortunately, this has not been done yet which leaves people to conjecture and policy makers with no scientific information for decision making. This study is therefore focused on analysing and gaining insights into the state of the landfill and how the operations are affecting the environment. This will provide information on the blind spots of policy makers and stakeholders, what works well and what can be done in managing the facility and also contribute to the growing mass of knowledge regarding landfill sites management.

1.3. Research Questions

To achieve the goal of the study, the research was designed to answer the following questions:

  • What is the state of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill?
  • How is the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill affecting the environment?
  • What factors militate against proper management of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill?
  • In what ways can the management of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill be improved upon?

1.4. Purpose and objectives of the study

The purpose of this study was to examine the state of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill in Tamale and how it is affecting the environment, with the aim of enhancing understanding of the problem and the key issues affecting the management of the landfill, and also to identify possible solutions to the problem. Pursuant to this, the specific objectives that guided the study were:

  • To examine the state of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill
  • To assess the effects of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill on the environment
  • To identify the factors that militate against proper management of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill
  • To identify ways to improve upon the management of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill

1.5. Scope of the Research

Geographically, the study took place at the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill site located northeast of the city of Tamale, about 5 km from the city centre. Tamale is made up of the Tamale Metropolitan and the Sagnarigu District Assemblies. Tamale has a total population of 366,262, urban population of 274,022 and 58,855 households (GSS, 2012). The Gbalahi sanitary landfill site is located within the Sagnarigu District but serves both the Tamale Metropolitan Assembly (TaMA) and the Sagnarigu District Assembly. Tamale is located between 0°45¹ W and 0°55¹ W and latitude 9°20¹ N and 9°30¹ N. The Gbalahi sanitary landfill site consists of a solid waste receiving facility and a liquid waste treatment facility. The solid waste dumping facility is a sanitary landfill. The landfill has a total area of ha, divided into two phases or cells: one cell is full and inactive but uncapped while the other is in operation. The facility receives approximately ..0 t of solid waste per day. The landfill began receiving waste in .. 2004 and it is estimated to receive a total of 0 t of solid waste by the time it is capped. The liquid waste treatment plant consists of three ponds made up of two 1216 m2 and 1216 m2 primary and secondary facultative ponds respectively and two 2432 m2 anaerobic ponds arranged in series and are connected to a common 4464 m2 aerobic pond. The system is designed to allow the units to operate in rotation. Liquid waste, including leachate from the landfill is discharged into the anaerobic pond; the connections of the ponds make it possible for the discharged liquid waste to be opened into the primary facultative pond. When the water level in the primary facultative pond is high enough, it is opened into the secondary facultative pond through a connecting valve. By the same token, the water in the secondary facultative pond is opened through a valve into the aerobic pond when the level is high. Through this natural process, as the water moves from pond to pond through the controlled valves, it becomes cleaner.

The study was limited to the site because there is a growing concern about its management which many believe is below best practice of sanitary landfill thereby turning it into an environmental and health threat. Also, the proper management of the facility has a bearing on waste management in Tamale as it is the only final disposal site in the area. The context of the study is on the management practices at the landfill site and how that is affecting the environment. This is because the main differentiating element between a dump and an engineered sanitary landfill besides the engineering works in construction is the management practices. Figures 1.1-1.5 below show the map of Ghana, Tamale, the landfill site, solid waste facility, liquid waste treatment plant and sampling locations.

1.6. Relevance and Justification for the Study

Since the dawn of civilisation and throughout history, humans have evolved means by which generated waste is disposed; pursuance to this, landfill has been and continuous to be the most popular option for waste disposal across the globe, Ghana and for that matter Tamale inclusive. In recent years and with the advancement in technology, landfill technology (in engineered sanitary landfill) has made it possible for waste to be isolated from the environment until it is rendered innocuous through biological, chemical and physical processes of nature before it is discharged into the environment. To this end, an engineered sanitary landfill must be managed in accord with recommended standards of sanitary practice. This is because, the consequences if overlooked are incalculable: disease outbreak and infections, reduction in the ambient quality of the environment, loss of human resources et cetera. The management operations at the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill in Tamale seems to fall below recommended best practice. This situation of the facility calls for scientific study to ascertain the impact of the landfill on the environment; unfortunately, the only attempt of a study of the site is a PhD thesis proposal on the topic: Overcoming the Barriers and Challenges to the Development of Domestic Sewage Fish Culture by Abdul-Rahaman submitted to the Department of Fisheries and Watershed Management, College of Renewable Natural Resources, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Apart from this, other studies such as Puopiel’s (2010) work: “Solid Waste Management in Ghana: The Case of Tamale Metropolitan Area”; Songsore and McGranahan’s (1996) study “Women and Household Environmental Care in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area”; Aryee and Crook’s (2003) work: “Toilet Wars: Urban Sanitation Services and the Politics of Public-Private Participation in Ghana” and Devas and Korboe’s (2000) work on “City Governance and Poverty” in Kumasi have investigated issues related to the urban waste problem in Ghana. These studies are but a few of the studies that have examined a wide range of environmental issues in Ghana; none of them has investigated the issue of engineered sanitary landfill site management to provide adequate understanding of the problem even though it remains a major component in achieving the overall goal of modern waste management. This situation creates a knowledge gap and makes it difficult to find solutions to the worsening state of the Gbalahi engineered sanitary landfill. To this end, this study will help to know the impact that the operations of the facility is having on the environment and further the understanding of the management problem of the landfill as well as provide a useful starting point for addressing the challenges. The research will also contribute to both the theory and practice of engineered sanitary landfill management.

1.7. Organisation of the Study

This research has been organised into five chapters. Chapter one has provided a systematic introduction to the research study, statement of the problem, research questions, purpose and objectives of the study, scope of the research; relevance and justification for the study and organisation of the study. Chapter two reviews related literature and discussed landfill management operations and challenges in developing countries as well as examined the concepts of integrated waste management and sustainable waste management as conceptual frameworks and how they relate to waste management. Chapter three talked about the methods by which the data or information for the study was collected. Chapter four analysed and discussed the findings of the research and Chapter five concluded the study by presenting a summary of the key findings upon which lessons are drawn.


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