Environmentalist makes case for informal waste workers

Nigerian informal waste workers’ plight is quite pathetic and the job they do is an essential job because, without them, we will all be living on dumpsites.

It is time to begin the process of formalisation. Let the government, private sector, multi-and bilateral organisations, academia, and citizens begin to identify ways of giving them a voice, visibility, validity and viability.

This is the view of Adesuwa Obasuyi, an environmentalist and Executive Director, Sustainable African Cities and Communities Initiative.

She expressed these views during her presentation: “The Integration of the Informal Waste Sector into Nigeria’s Solid Waste Management System: Barriers and Success Factors” at the first Sustainable Waste Symposium held in Lagos, recently. The symposium was organised by WestAfricaENRG and Cranfield University, UK.

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According to Obasuyi, “Our silent environmentalists, as I like to call them, deserve to be integrated into a system where their economic and social security is enhanced to ensure no one is left behind and the furthest behind are reached first.”

Her presentation was based on data from her survey of six dumpsites, illegal and government-approved, in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The informal waste workers are people who make a living from waste but are not formally tasked with providing the service by the authorities.

She stated that the average age for a male informal waste worker who makes a living out of Abuja’s dumpsites and bins is 23 years. These persons are mostly migrants from other states in the Northern part of Nigeria such as Nassarawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, and 72 per cent migrated to Abuja in search of greener pastures within the last five years.

“They all have big dreams of going back to school for further studies, owning their own farms, eventually becoming middlemen here in Abuja, getting married and starting their own families, building houses, or relocating back to their states of origin to establish other businesses.”

“A typical day for the informal waste worker begins at 8am and ends at 6pm. They make between ₦600 and ₦2000 daily collecting, sorting, storing and reselling recyclables of various kinds usually plastics, paper and cardboard, bottles and glass, metals, and so on.

“Their income is not very stable and is affected by factors such as seasonality, and decisions of buyers/middlemen, formal recycling enterprises and processors.

“They collect either single or mixed streams of recyclables which they eventually sort and sell separately. Every work day, a waste worker recovers between 1,000g to 3,000g of recyclables from dumpsites and bins,”Obasuyi stated.

She said the money informal waste workers make is spent on food, accommodation and medicines, adding that some of them save to actualise their dreams and some have to send money to support their families.

These informal waste workers, she explained, lived in squalor and unhygienic feeding conditions. They have no bank accounts “because they often do not have a means of identification, a verifiable address, public utility bills, and other requirements needed by Nigerian banks.”

The environmentalist said, “Apart from being looked down upon by other members of the society, in the course of doing their job without personal protective equipment, which 85 per cent said they cannot afford, they can get pricked by needles, syringes, broken bottles and other sharp objects. They can get bitten by dogs, snakes, mosquitoes and other insects, and they also get harassed by public officials and citizens alike.”

Obasuyi said people especially the political class must change attitude towards informal waste workers if formalisation of the informal waste sector is to take place.

She also called for the establishment of a national policy on waste.