How these companies going green in Ghana could pay off for the country and the planet

Every year, as many as 14 million Ghanaians put the wrong price tag on what they buy. And every year, 12m tonnes of earth’s resources such as soil, water and oil are wasted on things that don’t need to be produced

How these companies going green in Ghana could pay off for the country and the planet

Every year, as many as 14 million Ghanaians put the wrong price tag on what they buy, up to 12m tonnes of earth’s resources such as soil, water and oil are wasted, and other people’s families are lost to diseases such as TB, malaria and avian flu.

Most are because they buy – and then sell – goods made from minerals with very high mercury content.

On average, in 2013, Ghana imported 10m tonnes of materials such as iron ore and copper, a byproduct of processing such minerals in Europe and the US, with about 5% exported to Europe. Of this, about 2m tonnes, and more than half of this in copper, were rejected for being too toxic. The country has high levels of mercury pollution from iron ore.

A few mining companies have earmarked mercury-free alternatives, but progress has been slow. In April, the Ghanaian government awarded a contract to an Austrian environmental firm to minimise the use of toxic metals in the country’s mines. No, that didn’t involve maggots.

But the German renewable energy company Bayreuth says Ghana could earn more than $1bn a year from going green.

It offers a “Blue Moon” recycling plant for Ghana’s mining industry that works by turning waste iron into steel slabs. Payback for Ghana, Bayreuth says, will take just five years – once its employees have installed about 1,000 of the 45-tonne generators.

Bayreuth believes its plant will provide a cleaner source of electricity for as much as 70% of Ghana’s consumption. But it will also help people in other parts of the world – Ghanaian workers hired as labourers at the recycling plants will be able to boost their income from working in their home country, according to Bayreuth.

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Better coal: Africa has the dirtiest electricity. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ghana has more than 50 hydroelectric dams in which it can generate electricity. But 95% of it is imported from abroad, and a recent study found that this amount was unsustainable.

Generation with cleaner materials could cost $100m, Bayreuth says, but would reduce tariffs by about $15 a month per household.

Thousands of trees are to be planted and old power stations will be dismantled. The firm will also put an end to a practice that costs Ghana $180m a year, shipping 8,500 tonnes of toxic metals via New York to Europe. Bayreuth calculates that halting this waste, turning it into new goods and saving its employees, who must work 14-hour days, will have a direct impact on generating employment for hundreds of people. And a closer look at individual workers shows how jobs change lives.

“A lot of people got employed when Bayreuth came into Ghana. When the generator is installed, maybe there will be more than 100 people working in the company. Bayreuth can make all of this possible,” says Bayreuth’s CEO, Daniel Hensel.

That would surely pay off for Ghana. But what of the environment? If its minerals come from other parts of the world, and are recycled locally, it is possible for the Ghanaian environment to benefit. If those minerals go on to pollute the planet, how can Ghana benefit?

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