Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recycling in Accra

Charlie writes:

After several months of back and forth with the manufacturer of the Pure Home Water lids stashed on our front porch, Mary Kay finally gave up and authorized me to figure out a way to clear them out. The new clay pot filters from the factory in Tamale are a different size, so the lids we had from before just won't work, and the plastics maker here wasn't willing to take them back, since they really aren't worth much without a matching bottom.

I was not looking forward to the exercise, since recycling is not done in the same way here in Accra as it would be in Atlanta. In Atlanta, I knew the various places that glass, metals, or plastics could be taken for recycling, but not here.

After a few minutes, though, I remembered that I had seen a man cutting up the yellow jerrycans that hold cooking oil in a lot not too far from our house. He and his assistant seemed to be breaking them down into flat pieces and then lashing them together in piles to be sold to plastics manufacturers across town. I thought I would wander by and ask if they would take this sort of plastic as well.

When I got there, a crew of about six young men were just pulling in with one of those four-wheeled carts that you see all about town, topped by three large white tyvek bags filled with miscellaneous plastics, and a number of "Go Bags" that were stuffed with more plastic. They untied the bags and tossed them on the ground, then used an S-shaped hook to attach the bags one at a time to a spring scale hanging from a crossbar about six feet off the ground. Then the man running the recycling center scribbled his sums in a small pad and paid the head hauler, who then passed some on to all the "boys" who had helped collect and escort the cart. The cart owner then left to gather up more from the neighborhood.

After they had finished, I approached the owner. He looked at the lid, telling me that he would pay fifty pesewas per kilogram for that sort of plastic. I enlisted two of the hangers-on to walk back to our house with two huge tyvek bags. They neatly stuffed all the lids into the bags, but then realized that they wouldn't be able to hoist them on their heads as I think they had anticipated. So I backed the Hilux over and they loaded them in the pickup bed, supervised by Jonas and Jasper. A few minutes later we were back at the lot, and the owner helped wrestle the bags into position for weighing. Mary Kay was pleasantly surprised to receive cash back for what was no longer usable, and I was amused that the scrap vendor paid the 92 ghana cedis with 92 red one cedi notes. That's about the first business I've run into in Ghana that carries exact change!

The students from CMU have been running a demonstration plastic bottle recycling program at Ashesi, not sure where the bottles go, but I had read somewhere that an NGO was collecting them to use as floats in creating netted fish hatcheries in Lake Volta, which sounded interesting.

Now if we can just figure out what to do with glass and aluminum...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Seawater Desalination Coming to Teshie

Charlie writes:

A few weeks ago on my usual weekend bicycle ride, I tried to find the Ramada Inn that is east of Accra on Coco Beach. Was unable to on bicycle, but later Mary Kay and I drove over, and spent a holiday afternoon there. But the topic of this post is the new water project that I discovered. I've not heard anything of it in the local media.
Today, I bicycled back over, and met with Carlos, one of the engineers from Abengoa Water, a Spanish firm that is heading up a desalination project in Teshie, an eastern suburb of Accra, the nation's capital. Carlos was pacing the property, with a clipboard on which he was counting the trucks as they went in and out of the compound. As he explained to me, the site had been used as an unofficial landfill, so the first step is to build a wall, install concertina wire and gates, and provide manned security to discourage the addition of any more trash to the property. They had been given assurances that the place they were hauling truckloads of black sand in Tema, further east, had been declared a legitimate landfill, but hadn't seen official documents of that claim yet.

When I asked how much water this plant was to be providing to this part of Accra, the answer was "Just read it off the sign, isn't it out there?" We walked outside the gate and as you can see in the photo, there was no mention of the size or date. Carlos then admitted that the plant was designed to produce 60,000 cubic meters of potable water per day, and that if everything goes well, it should begin operating in about two years. As a point of comparison, I found a report suggesting that in 2008, GWCL had contracted for a 20,000 cubic meters per day plant in Teshie, with a 25-year BOO plan with Aqualyng Ghana Limited, which I suppose has lapsed. That was projected to supply enough water for just 4% of metro Accra, which would be 1 or 2% by 2030. Sounds like this plant is 3 times that. Abengoa claims to have built plants in Spain, Algeria, India, and China with a combined capacity of 875,000 cubic meters per day, so this is a modest sized one.

He and I compared traffic stories. Carlos decided to settle in Osu, where he could get about without needing an auto, and could find good food and nightlife. His firm supplied him a driver and auto, and he can make it from home to work in 45-60 minutes. The beach road widening is nearly finished, just a few hundred yards of road where the dual-carriage merges onto one side just east of the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Center. Both our commutes are reverse the normal direction, although mine is closer to 90 minutes.

Apparently the plan is to submerge a large pipe under the beach there, and withdraw seawater. Then it will be forced through membranes at high pressures to separate the salt. He didn't say what other processes would be used, but I would imagine that chlorination or UV disinfection might be required, since the city of Accra discharges only partially treated wastewater into the ocean at a point that Google Earth computes at 17.12 km away. [Google Earth kml file here].

The civil work was being done by the same outfit that had constructed the Ashesi campus in Berekuso, so their foreman recognized my t-shirt. They are planning to finish securing the perimeter in the next few weeks.

With the unreliability of electricity in the area, I'm not sure how practical a desal plant will be, but perhaps they will build a large diesel powerplant to carry them over power cuts. That would be very expensive, though.

Saw the following advert on my way home on a tavern wall. Ghanaians are often surprised that I would call myself "Charlie" for this reason, since it is kind of like "Bud" or "Buster" in the USA.

Exo 15:23-27 GNB

Then they came to a place called Marah, but the water there was so bitter that they could not drink it. That is why it was named Marah. The people complained to Moses and asked, "What are we going to drink?" Moses prayed earnestly to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood [moringa?], which he threw into the water; and the water became fit to drink. There the LORD gave them laws to live by, and there he also tested them. He said, "If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the LORD, the one who heals you." Next they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees; there they camped by the water.