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Dealing with plastic waste: Meet Ursula Akurugu, the woman recycling plastic waste into baskets

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Many African countries have to deal with single-use plastics. This has become a menace, with Ghana not being an exception. Plastic bags are indiscriminately used by vendors in cities and towns in Ghana. One of the biggest contributors to this menace is the use of sachets of water. Almost 8.2 billion sachets of water are consumed in Ghana (Stoler, 2017).

On a bigger perspective, Global Plastic Action estimates Ghana generates around 1.1 million tons of plastic waste per year. Just about 5 percent of it is collected for recycling.

The menace has caught the attention of the government. In October 2019, under the leadership of President Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana became the first African nation to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership, thus establishing the Ghana National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP).

The Ghana NPAP serves as the national platform for multi-stakeholder cooperation, facilitating initiatives and funding to scale up and accelerate in-country partnerships that address plastic waste and pollution while contributing to the nation’s progress towards achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The NPAP works closely with the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation (MESTI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and over 120 Ghanaian partners across all sectors.


The menace of plastic waste at the national level isn’t any different from what pertains to the Upper East Region. But Ursula Akurugu is hoping to change the narrative.

Ms. Akurugu is a native of Vea, a community in the Bongo district of the Upper East Region. She is into the production of beads and baskets. Bolgatanga is known as the basket capital of Ghana. Straws are used in the production of the baskets.

According to Ms. Akurugu, while growing up, straws used to be easy to find. “You just had to go to your backyard and get them, but these days, it is difficult to find them, maybe due to development.”

To get straws, basket weavers have to travel long distances, sometimes as far as Kintampo or Techiman, and pay exorbitant prices to get their raw materials for the production of the baskets. Because of the cost of the raw materials, profit margins on baskets decreased significantly. At this point, Ms. Akurugu made a decision to find alternative materials for the production of baskets.

“The plastic rubber, particularly the sachet water, was everywhere, so I decided I would do something out of it,” she said.


Ms. Akurugu collects defective and unused empty sachet water bags from water production companies. Additionally, when word got out about her work, some individuals began saving up the empty plastics and deliver them to her.


According to Ms. Akurugu, it is difficult for many Ghanaians who purchase her products to come to terms with owning baskets or bags made from recycled plastic. This is not the same for her clients from Europe or the Americas.

“In Ghana, they think that it [the plastic bags] is something that has been thrown away, so they don’t value it [the recycled baskets]. They don’t patronize it. A white man values this more and would patronize it more,” she said.

Making baskets and bags from used plastic is a more difficult process, Ms. Akurugu said, but she remains committed to it.


Ms. Akurugu has been making baskets from used plastic since 2017. Since that time, she has trained other women and out-of-school girls to do the same. She believes that if more people were able to adopt the more difficult process of turning used sachet water bags into baskets, the Upper East Region would be a cleaner place.

“It is not easy for these women. What we have done is train some women to be able to cut the rubbers to size. Then we have other women who do the twisting of the rubber. Then there is a third group of women to do the baskets. We pay these people,” she said.


For the baskets made with recycled plastic, Ms. Akurugu’s primary customers are foreigners. However, patronage of the products has decreased over time because fewer foreigners are coming to the Upper East Region during the period of COVID-19 and because of news of conflicts and some disturbances. This means that business has slowed down heavily for her.

This slump in business means that the women she works with don’t earn as much as she would want them to.

Ms. Akurugu explained that she would need more capital to help her expand her business, engage more women, and increase their wages. She also hopes that well-meaning individuals, organizations, and the general population will create market avenues for her.


Ms. Akurugu, through her business is championing five different Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production Ms. Akrugu’s work directly addresses this goal by repurposing plastic waste into useful products, promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth By employing and training women and out-of-school girls in her recycling initiative, Ms. Akurugu is contributing to promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

SDG 5: Gender Equality By empowering and providing economic opportunities to women and girls through her initiative, Ms. Akurugu’s work supports the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities Ms. Akurugu’s efforts to reduce plastic waste and promote recycling contribute to making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

SDG 13: Climate Action Ms. Akurugu’s work, by reducing plastic waste and promoting sustainable practices, can be seen as contributing to the urgent actions needed to combat climate change and its impacts.


In 2020, The Ghana NPAP undertook a scoping and diagnostic exercise in Ghana to identify interventions that have the greatest impact within the plastics value chain and oversee the preparation and establishment of an evidence-based baseline.

In November 2021, this key deliverable had been achieved! The National Action Roadmap demonstrates how to manage plastics across the product lifecycle and reduce Ghana’s plastic waste challenge, while continuing to boost the country’s economic growth.

It is essential that Ms. Akurugu gets the support she needs to help her scale her business and create more impact.

Source: A1radioonline.com|101.1MHz|Mark Kwasi Ahumah|Bolgatanga|

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