Unacknowledged gap fillers

Those involved in informal waste management are at the bottom of the waste value chain in Nigeria. People look at waste pickers as poor, dirty or criminal, a view that is often borne out of unawareness.

– But the cities would drown in garbage if it wasn’t for the waste pickers. Their work is as important as other professions, says Chidi Nzeadibe.

He is guest researcher at NAI during fall 2013 and will focus on gender participation in the informal waste economy in urban Nigeria.

It ought to be the duty of local authorities to deal with solid waste management and recycling of non-renewable material. However, with little finances, capacity or political will, not much is being done in Nigerian cities. As a result, the informal sector has taken up the role of critical but unacknowledged gap filler in the waste recycling system. Without official recognition by the government the waste pickers don’t have legal right to the land they use as transfer stations for recyclable waste, and thereby live under constant threat of eviction by the police or municipal authorities. Sometimes, the pickers are subjected to harassment and extortion just to retain their ‘right to waste’.

– This is one of the reasons that the waste pickers are organizing themselves. If the government recognizes them formally for what they are contributing to the environment, economy and society, their situation wouldn’t be so vulnerable, says Chidi Nzeadibe.

Yet another reason to organize is to manage to negotiate better deals with the waste dealers that buy metal scraps and other recyclables from the waste pickers. The scrap dealers act as a link between waste pickers and the recycling industry round the country.

– Waste pickers are in a difficult position and are forced to accept any price by the dealers. They often get blackmailed or threatened by the dealers, says Chidi Nzeadibe.

 Read Policy Note by Chidi Nzeadibe (opens in new window).

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