Waste pickers in Lagos benefit from slum households’ recyclables
Peter Adeyeye, Lagos Community Manager
Lagos, 5 July 2016
As one of the fastest growing megacities in the world, Lagos has a mounting solid waste issue: the city generates an estimated at 13,000 metric tonnes daily. This waste is mostly composed of plastic, vegetables, papers, glass and metals that are generated by households and industries. The Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) is the government agency in charge of solid waste management in the city and is saddled with the responsibility transferring waste to landfills, maintenance of landfills and the recycling of waste. It operates the waste transfer from homes and industrial areas through a public-private partnership arrangement, known as the Private Sectors Participants (PSP), which uses trucks to move the waste to landfills for initial processing.
Also included in the waste management value chain are the activities of informal waste collectors that are generally known as waste pickers. Many are migrants from the northern part of the country with few skillsets to gain decent employment in the city. The primarily conduct two activities: sorting out of non-biodegradable waste, such as electronic and metals from household waste bins and dumpsites, and also serve as complementary waste collectors for households where the PSP is insufficient or fails, many of which are informal settlements. Although electronic waste management is handled by the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), most of the activities around e-waste management are done by the informal sector. The market for electronic waste and metals inform the activities of the waste pickers in maintaining a livelihood by collecting e-waste and other waste by pushing of carts around the metropolis to sell to the informal recyclers.
The activities of these informal waste collectors have raised concerns over health and safety issues for the workers. Most of them are not aware of the health risk involved in the collection of waste, particularly e-waste, and will sometimes use their bare hands to sort waste from waste bins and dumpsites. Many of them also push fully loaded carts over long distances, which can have dire implications on their health status over time. There are also questions about their economic well being, as they are often among the lowest earners in society.
Most waste management initiatives in the city have focused more on the users of this waste or its end products while ignoring the activities of these waste collectors that represent a significant proportion of the city’s labor force.
Weyclers is a non-profit that works with LAWMA in collecting household recyclable waste through a model that incentivizes households by the amount of waste they collect while using low-cost cargo-bicycles to sell the sorted waste to local processors. It employs some of the informal collectors and equips them with the relevant skillset and support, including a bicycle, making the transportation process easier. The bicycles are particularly helpful in dense neighborhoods where traditional dump trucks cannot enter.
The families who recycle their waste with Wecyclers receive points over their cell phones, which they can redeem for “goods they value, such as cell phone minutes, basic food items, and household goods. Families receive collection reminders and rewards updates directly on their mobile phones making the benefits of recycling immediate,” says Wecyclers. The model also benefits the informal recyclers who are able to increase their income through access to more waste that is often of a better quality.
In promoting a more inclusive city, it is imperative to ensure a safer, healthier and prosperous livelihood for informal waste collectors. For instance it will be great to see LAWMA integrate them into its value chain as it strives towards efficient waste management system. Health and safety professionals and NGOs can continue to raise awareness around safe and healthy practices in this challenging livelihood.
Photo credit: Peter Adeyeye