By Mahelet Guoshe
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (UNEP) — Waste disposal is one of the major challenges to cities and other human settlements. One person’s garbage may be another’s gold, at least where waste is concerned to “scavengers” and others who do business from recycling and re-use, thus reducing the permanent “wasting” of resources. This was the underlying purpose of a recent workshop in Addis Ababa. The workshop on “Formalizing the Informal Economy in Addis Ababa Waste Management” held on 18 March 2009 at Ras Hotel brought together city and federal level government officials and experts, representatives of private companies, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and individuals who are engaged in solid waste management. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Sub-Regional Office, which is based in the city, collaborated with the Addis Ababa City Administration’s Sanitation, Beautification and Park Development Agency to organize the workshop.
In his welcoming remarks to workshop participants, Mr. Hailu Dinku (Head of the Sanitation, Beautification and Park Development Agency), explained that the city is currently experiencing serious challenges in solid waste management. He said the city administration is giving priority to improving the situation, pointing out that currently there are favorable conditions for improving solid waste management because of the restructuring and reorganizing of the city’s executive agencies in the light of on-going Business Process Reengineering (BPR). He said that BPR has been a key agenda of the city administration, such that government offices are building their working systems that can make them responsive, flexible and customer focused.
Key players in the waste management sector in Addis Ababa are classified as formal and informal operators. Formal operators are those registered and licensed to work and perform within the regulation of tax, space, etc. like Government operators, Municipal employees, street cleaning, and private operators. On the other hand, informal operators are those who are not registered and have no legal base for the existence of their business.
This category includes scavengers at a place called Koshe (a dumping site), unregistered recyclers, reusable article sellers at a place called Minalesh Tera. These facts emerged from a situation analysis of informal economy operators in Addis Ababa solid waste management by Mr. Fikre Yifru (engineer), an employee of Africa Business Development.
According to the above study, the primary collectors are, in the majority, people who live in families. Nearly 50% are above grade 8, which shows that primary collectors are largely stable and heads of families. 63% of the respondents wear protective equipment. These are mainly the street sweepers employed by Addis Ababa City Administration (AACA). The remaining 37% do not use protective gear and are members of cooperatives and private companies. About 46% of the respondents get Birr 150 or less per month. Nearly 1/3 of respondents get salaries in the range Birr 150-250, whereas 50% obtain a salary of Birr 250-400. Nearly 50% have served 4-10 years, whereas 44% have worked for the last 3 years only. The recyclers are re-users of items that have been put to service before. It is defined as returning to the economy of items or materials that someone else has thrown away. Scavengers are part of the recycling process related to wastes. They take discarded items and try to find some one to use it.
Large-scale shops in “Minealesh Terra” in Addis Ababa market the products or previously discarded items retrieved by artisans and other recyclers to urban and rural residents of the country. The research also refers to other country experiences concerning waste management, including South Africa, Argentina, India, Mexico, and Colombia.
In some of these countries, government supports these enterprises financially. In others like Brazil government consider tax incentives. Experience from India suggests that informal waste management workers should formalize their business while the government and the public should support them by providing training, technical and material support.
Following the presentation both informal and formal solid waste management workers shared their experiences, leading to a lively discussion among the participants.