Waste Collection: 'A Tale of Two Cities'

Waste management systems in many developing countries has much room for improvement. Some positive changes are outlined in the second section of this article.

Somewhere in Europe...
It’s Saturday, 8.45am in a quiet residential area of Leeds, UK. The distinct beep-beep-beep of a garbage collection truck is within earshot. In just a few more minutes, three experienced collectors will haul grey wheelie bins filled with rubbish into this truck. For efficient weekly rubbish collection, all the collectors ask of residents is to make sure they wheel out their grey bins to the kerbside before the truck arrives. All over-18 year old residents of the neighbourhood, with the exception of full-time students, pay for this service. Payments are made to the local city council government as council tax, property fees which also provide funding for other city sanitation as well as recreational services. For residents, the waste disposal cycle is now complete: from 'Household Bin' to 'Large Outside Bin' to 'Waste Truck Bin'. For the waste collectors, the waste disposal cycle has just begun: once they have collected waste from the mapped-out region or when the truck is filled to capacity, they proceed to a Transfer Station, where rubbish from different residential areas are sorted and then conveyed to a larger waste treatment facility.

Elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa...
In Jos Jarawa, a city in North-Central Nigeria, the residential waste disposal cycle typically involves residents taking their rubbish to communal open dumpsites, where waste is either openly burned or transported by trucks to larger open dumpsites. Rubbish often comprises inedible food scraps, house sweepings, fallen leaves, and polyethene bags. For residents who keep livestock, vegetable peels and other organic wastes tend to be fed to the animals. Meanwhile, plastic and various kinds of glass bottles are usually set aside for reuse – it is not unusual to hear the tinkle-tinkle of a man tapping a metal object to a glass bottle to draw attention to himself while he walks and announces, “kwallabe, kwallabe” (meaning, “bottles, bottles” in Hausa), or sometimes even sings: “A kawo kwallabe, tsohon takalmi na roba, a kawo su in saya” / “Bring bottles, old rubber shoes, bring them and I’ll buy”). Similarly, in Yola, a North-Eastern city in Nigeria, women recycle polyethene bags into colourful handbags. Larger-scale recycling programmes such as Wecyclers and RecyclePoints are available in Lagos, one the most populated cities on the African continent. This short video also highlights other waste reuse projects in Lagos, although what should be next on the recommendations list is adequate personal protective equipment for the workers. The growth of such incentive-based recycling activities and the increasingly structured contributions of the informal waste management sector are reassuring developments indeed.

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