Co-creation: Reinventing how we collect and transport waste

April 23, 2021

The accelerator lab’s portfolio on waste management looks to generate learning and introduce innovative solutions at various stages of the waste value chain. Over the past few months, we have looked at the current waste management system, the role of the informal sector and how waste is recycled and reused. From our explorations, we saw the importance of proper waste collection and transportation for an effective system. Therefore, the team embarked on a deep dive and solutions cocreation exercise for solid waste collection and transport in Bahir Dar. 

Deep Dive

We needed to get a deeper understanding of what the challenges were in waste collecting. Therefore for two days we shadowed waste collectors and transporters on their collection routes and spoke with residents. The exercise was fun. We woke up early in the morning to join a group of 19 waste collectors (4 men and 15women) in the Fasilo sub city as they did the door-to-door collection. We had a behind-the-scenes look at how the collectors and residents interact. The waste collectors begin their work at 6 AM and visit the neighbourhood once a week. There is a division of work among the groups, with two teams that target different neighbourhoods in the sub-city. 

The process starts with the women waste collectors knocking on doors to provide waste bags for households to transfer their waste. The households are responsible for taking the waste out to the neighbourhood streets. At this point, the waste passes from the control of the generator to the control of the collector. It serves as the interface between the service recipient and the service provider.

Once the waste bags are on the streets, the men come with pushcarts to collect the waste and transport it to a nearby temporary collection point. We have noticed that the women help with loading and unloading the wastes. The women members are also making sure that no waste is left behind during collection. It is common for households to complain that the collection service providers have neglected to do their work, but the collectors say that the fault mostly lies with the households for not putting their waste out for collection at the right date and time.

There are several temporary waste collection points in the neighbourhood at an average distance of about 150 meters from each other where the waste collectors accumulate until it is transported to the landfill, which usually is a few hours at most. There are only eight formal transfer stations in the city, so the temporary location is used in lieu of them. These temporary waste collection points change every week because are at normal street corners and the households are likely to complain if they are used repeatedly. They are also not safe for the waste collectors as they are sometimes on roads that have heavy traffic.

It took the team about two hours to collect all the waste from the neighbourhood and temporary store it at collection points. Within a few minutes, a truck arrived, and the collectors emptied the waste bags on to the truck and collected back their sacks/bags. We observed that households don’t segregate their waste and most of the waste is organic waste mixed with some PET (polyethene terephthalate) bottles. We did not see wastes that have market value like metals and PVC plastics in the disposed waste because households are selling such items to the informal waste pickers locally known as Qorales. 


After the deep dive, we brought together municipality solid waste experts, waste collectors and leaders of waste collecting and transportation companies and associations for a co-creation exercise. The exercise enables us to explore the prominent challenges associated with solid waste collection, transportation, the respective potential technological solutions & business models that help to efficiently collect and transport solid waste from a household. During the exercise, the stakeholders were asked to describe their own waste collection experiences and their desired waste collection and transportation ideas. The lab team then shared insights from their deep dive exercise. Together we generated, rated, refined the ideas and their execution. The lab team used the ideas from the participants as a starting point to sketch out a user flow and see their immediate reactions. As a result of this shortened feedback loop, the group generated ideas that were richer and more relevant. 

Among the recommended solutions reinventing a waste collection cart rated on top. Pushcart is one of the common ways to collect waste from household and transport it to the nearby waste collection points or transfer stations. There is a consensus among stakeholders that pushcart is a proper technology for waste collection and transportation from households to temporary waste collection points. However, they also suggest some desired features to make the existing pushcarts more efficient and convenient for the users/waste collectors. The existing push carts are not specifically designed for waste collection and didn’t consider the type of waste, the road situation and most importantly ease of use for all as it is very labour intensive. The users like some features of the existing pushcart including its accessibility because it can be fabricated at any local metal fabrication workshop, it’s in line with the municipalities job creation agenda as it is a manual tool that doesn’t need any special skill to operate it. Therefore, we decide to keep these features while we design the cart for ergonomics, stability, ease of pushing for both women and men, ease of loading and unloading and make it convenient to transport segregated waste. The users prefer pushing the cart than pulling it because they think pushing is easier and there are also some perception issues with pulling as it’s mostly associated with equine animals.

Based on ideas reflected on the co-creation exercise the lab team designed three prototypes of pushcart with different features to be tested with users. 

The first prototype is a pushcart that resembles the existing one with the carrying capacity but designed as per the agreed design principles on the co-creation. The unique features include an extra wheel added for stability, different shape for ease of loading and different wheel position, installed with partition for different types of waste.  

We thought also good to start with the problem and follow with the cocreation solution. 

The second prototype is a pushcart with a reduced carrying capacity so that it can be pushed by one person instead of two/three so it can be operated by men and women. Labour is not an issue for waste collecting associations and it’s possible to have an efficient door to door waste collection with smaller size and easy to push carts by increasing the number of carts to be used by waste-collecting groups. 

The third prototype is a pushcart with a removable box for several types of waste and it does not need sacks/plastic bags so households can directly transfer their waste into the cart. This will remove a few steps in the current waste collection process. 

What is next? 

Based on the solutions co-created, we will build prototypes of the pushcarts that will be tested with the stakeholders to identify how they will perform in improving the efficiency of waste collection. The goal is to connect this work with our behavioural insight study on positive deviance in waste segregations and exploring solutions for waste collection in hard-to-reach areas of the city in a portfolio of experiments on waste management. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs that will be reflecting on our experimentations.

If you are interested in this topic and have any ideas or suggestion, we would love to hear from you through email address.