From carts to trucks: efficiency in waste management

Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi, Lagos Community Manager
Lagos, 5 June 2015

In many developing countries, the informal sector provides waste collection services to low-income neighborhoods. It is common to see waste being carried in carts pulled by bicycles or wheelbarrows being pushed by people. A major feature of this practice is the indiscriminate dumping of refuse by cart pushers resulting from their lack of necessary equipment to haul waste to official landfills. This haphazard waste management and this form of employment have negative effects on the environment — especially with respect to waste recycling. This indiscriminate dumping of refuse, the resulting drain blocks, and the need for a more sustainable practice were said to have inspired Lagos's new approach to waste management.

The Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) is responsible for waste management across Lagos. The agency currently takes advantage of public-private partnerships, which have modernized and formalized waste cart pushing. Through extended services made possible by these private service providers, the system has been developed to allow waste collection through modernized means that ensure proper disposal of waste even from remote areas. Various methods exist for waste collection — inner-city areas with narrow roads are reached via mini skip trucks and automotive tricycles instead of wheelbarrows and push carts. This allows for more collection per area, adds ease and dignity to the process, and ensures proper disposal to official landfills since each operator is accountable to a regulating body that enforces good practices and monitors service delivery. Because of the former indiscriminate system of informal refuse collection and the ensuing challenges, LAWMA's current system ensures that waste materials are classified into categories such as medical, industrial, and domestic, and disposed of appropriately.

Services are provided through direct collection by LAWMA, through indirect collection (on behalf of LAWMA) by the private sector, and through franchising. Franchising and private servicing provide an opportunity for informal waste collectors to enter the formal economy. This is beneficial for many reasons, including the fact that it allows for standardized and increased payment, as the waste management agency has a unified pricing system per tonnage, as opposed to indiscriminate pricing in the informal economy. It also encourages women to get involved in the sector, as the collection activities have been mostly automated, as opposed to the intense exertion of cart-pushing.

With a population of approximately 20 million and a high level of commercial and industrial activity, the need for an inventive system of waste management in Lagos is apparent. The system of utilizing private service providers and expanding the waste management sector into the formal economy allows for effective management of the 10,000 metric tons of waste generated in Lagos each day. Although the system is now more organized, it is not yet perfect — cart pushers still exist because some view them as a cheaper alternative to LAWMA's services. It might be worth considering the integration of the cart pushers into the larger system for certain areas, with regulations and modifications. But overall, thanks to the more encompassing agency and its increased capacity, Lagos' waste disposal is more organized.

Photo: Robert Terrell and Bob Adams

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