Harnessing Informal Waste Collectors For Effective Waste Management In Nigeria


Wednesday, March 04,  2020 /12:36 PM / By FDC / Header Image Credit: Ventures Africa


Waste management is a general challenge for all densely populated cities and Nigerian cities are not an exception. With a population of nearly 190 million people, Nigeria is struggling to keep waste away from the streets and reduce the number of dumpsites. Environmental agencies in Nigeria have not been able to keep up with the pace of waste generation in the country. Although the government has initiated several efforts to enhance effective waste management, it has had limited success. Inefficient collection mediums, low collection coverage, inadequate funding for facilities to manage the high rate of waste generation and improper waste disposal practices are just some of the limitations. Waste management in Nigeria has also been largely concentrated in the public sector, as it is seen as a duty of the government.


Efforts at achieving effective waste management

The Nigerian government instituted the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) in 1988 to address environmental issues in the country. This was backed by a national environmental policy to encourage public awareness and participation in environmental protection. The policy advocates proper collection and disposal of waste, in environmentally sound manners, with laws to enforce compliance. Despite the efforts of the government to encourage effective waste management in the country, the common practice in Nigeria is the relocation of waste rather than proper disposal.


The UNDP reported that the accumulation of uncollected solid waste in the north-eastern part of the country is attributable to the ongoing hostilities in that area.16 Such a waste build-up, however, is not peculiar to that region of the country. Across the country it is estimated that waste collection is only 30% effective, meaning 70% of Nigeria's waste is not properly handled. The southern areas have also reported uncontrolled dumping of waste on the streets and highways particularly in urbanized cities like Lagos. This has led to significant public health concerns, as well as life threatening flooding from waste dumped in canals and drains.


In response, some states, like Lagos, have introduced partnerships with private sector participants in order to promote effective waste management. The Lagos Waste Management Agency partners with the private sector partners (PSPs) for waste collection, disposal, and enforcement of waste management fees. However, waste collection by the PSPs has not effectively kept waste away from the streets and highways. According to available statistics, waste collected and deposited at landfill sites in Lagos state dropped by 54.71% to 1.74 million metric tons in 2016 from its peak of 3.83 million metric tons in 1990.20 20Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA). 2020. "Waste statistics."


Harnessing informal waste carriers to achieve waste collection goals

Informal waste pickers are individuals who make their living by collecting recyclables from waste in the streets and dumpsites. Generally, informal waste collectors are faced with societal backlash and discrimination.  It is believed that they are only interested in collecting waste for money and are not interested in the proper disposal of the waste collected. Informal waste pickers allegedly collect waste from households to dispose them indiscriminately on dumpsites without adequate knowledge of proper waste management, and there is no legal backing for the activities of informal waste collectors in Nigeria. Despite the claims against informal waste pickers, it is important to note that they have reach across the country that PSPs do not. If integrated effectively, informal waste collectors could be a game changer for waste management in Nigeria, as they have been in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. In these countries, they have been so deeply integrated that they even have cooperatives or unions.


Lessons from Brazil

In Brazil, the government partners with informal waste pickers and scavengers as environmental agents for proper waste disposal, especially in densely populated urban cities. The National Basic Sanitation Policy, initiated in the country in 2007 (and complemented by the National Policy on Solid Waste in 2010), introduced an integrated waste management framework. The framework encourages the formation of unions for regional waste management as a means of strengthening municipal waste management capacities through economies of scale and cost reduction. This has helped to facilitate a shared sense of responsibility towards waste collection, disposal and recycling, in addition to boosting job creation.


The National Movement of Recyclable Waste Pickers is the umbrella body of the waste pickers associations in Brazil. It was established in 1999 to create a voice for waste pickers, who had previously been on the margins of society. About 300 waste pickers' associations are represented under the auspices of the National Movement of Recyclable Waste Pickers. Beyond waste collection, waste pickers' operations in Brazil have enhanced recycling activities and reduced the volume of waste at landfill sites by about 20%. This has helped to extend the useful life of landfills in the country.


Waste pickers as the way forward

Organizing waste pickers into unions and deploying them as environmental agents for waste management is key for effective waste management in Nigeria. Although the PSP initiative is a step in the right direction, integrating informal waste collectors into the Nigerian waste management system would enhance the success of environmental initiatives in the country. Given the rapid rate of waste generation in the country, these informal waste collectors will facilitate faster, and proper collection and disposal of waste, as well as recycling, especially in overcrowded urban cities. These informal environmental agents can also be used to curb indiscriminate disposal of waste on streets and promote efficient revenue collection of waste management fees from households.

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