Minalesh Tera: How Addis Ababa’s informal recycling and reusing market supports formal waste management

July 30, 2020

By UNDP Ethiopia Accelerator Lab 

Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia and regarded as the political capital of Africa, is a large metropolitan that still struggles with waste management. 

The city annually produces 400K + tons of waste; 70% is collected through the formal solid waste management system that is administered by the city government while the remaining 30% gets dumped into rivers, kept in informal local dumps or lost in the inefficiency of the waste management system. 

But we also found that although not formally organized or recognized, informal waste collection, recycling and reusing systems greatly support the formal waste management system by creating a source of inputs for what would have ended up in landfills.

In previous explorations, we learned that effective solid waste management relays heavily on proper sorting and segregation of the different types of wastes. Therefore, we wanted to learn how the formal waste management system handles sorting, with emphasis on households. In parallel, we looked into the vast informal waste collecting and recycling market. 

Driving factors for sorting behavior in a formal waste management

In Addis Ababa city, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), do have a role on household level waste collection, which counts 76% of the total waste generated by the city. Using a collective intelligence, an insight was generated on the extent of waste sorting at households’ level, mechanisms of sorting, types of sorted wastes, what is being sold, and what goes to the land fill.

Key representatives from municipalities, SMEs (Collectors and sorting associations), Ministry of Urban and Construction and Environmental Forest and Climate Change Commission participated in our virtual collective intelligence sessions helping us understand more on the issue.

Through their reflection we learned that a large percentage of waste generated from household is organic (43% for Addis Ababa and 80% for Ethiopia), which supports the production of compost and gives us a good prospect with our future planed experimentation on looking into the best product placement and promotion for compost.

The SME waste collectors emphasize that household’s waste sorting practice is less, even between the organic and inorganic ones. One of the contributing factors emanates from their knowledge on what is organic and what is not.


Consequently, a considerable amount of waste goes to the landfill. The absence of a recycling facility (affordable recycling technology) and the weak market outlet of sorted materials, also discourages the sorting practice of MSEs during waste collection. 

The lack of technology is also a hindrance for valued waste because it means that SMEs don’t have the capacity to add value to the raw material before selling to companies. For example, plastic bottles have one of the strongest markets for recycling, but the SME’s don’t have the capacity to crush or shred the plastic before selling it to the companies. Therefore, the SMEs lose the profit margin that could have been earned by value addition. They also bear additional transportation cost as they take the waste to companies that do have such facilities. If value had been added on the collected plastic bottle on the spot, it could have increased their profit and be more invested in the system. This challenge is also an opportunity for innovators and startups working on waste recycling to add value and introduce a diversified waste product.



At the institutional and legal level, an enabling environment is lacking across the value chain from generation, onsite storage and treatment, collection and transportation, transfer, finally treatment and disposal. While the government is creating a legal framework for environmentally conscious waste management, the implementation has been difficult. 

Formal recycling and selling waste depend on the availability of recycling facilities that are not available across the county because recycling isn’t provided as part of the city’s waste management system. Rather, they are private company ventures centred around a specific location. For example, there is a company in Addis that recycles PET plastic waste, so most cities located near Addis Ababa have access to this market, while other cities situated far from Addis Ababa do not have such access. 

The desired future state visualized for solid waste management is to diversify waste product that has a strong value in the market, innovative livelihood options which create jobs from the waste value chain, and improve sorting behaviour and recycling process to reduce the waste in the landfill.

Given the variety of factors contributing to the current system, we must have a portfolio approach to improve the on-site storage and segregation practice at households and MSEs, who are involved in waste collection and transportation. The reflections that we get on creating jobs from waste value chain pushes us to dig more in the informal waste pickers and their contribution to the system.

Informal waste collection

The biggest role in recycling and reusing in the city is played by the informal sector. A very common example is what is called a “korale”, men who canvas neighbourhoods buying peoples’ waste like old shoes, broken appliances, large jerrycans, or even old pots and pans, that they can fix up or use to make other things they can sell. 

These activities have been around for a very long time and serve as not only ways to get rid of unwanted items but also make money from selling your waste. These men, the Korales, make their living through collecting people’s waste and turning them into products they can sell. 

Moreover, there are many trash scavengers and foragers who are playing significant roles in collecting recyclable/reusable items from the city landfill and waste collection centres. The following illustration shows the network among different actors in the informal sector.


In Merkato, the largest open market in the north-west of Addis Ababa is Minalesh Tera, where all manner of recyclable or reusable waste come to be forged into new products or sold to buyers. Minalesh is an Amharic word that means 'what do you have?'. Here you can find metal, plastic, paper, rubber, wood and many others. The narrow streets are filled with small shops and rooftops filled with items to be sold or upcycled inonew products.  

Paper is sold by weight in Minalesh Tera to other small shop owners who use it to bag the items they sale to their customers. The price depends on the quality of the paper and what you are looking for. We saw a lot of books in piles waiting to be either be sold at book fairs or sold to paper recycling companies.

Where there is a lack of raw material or it is found too expensive, people turn to recycle or reuse available materials. This is very common for metal, where large metal barrels are turned into cloth washing basins, while large car gears are turned into a cooking stand for wood fires, and metal sheets are used to make small coal stoves and ovens.

For plastic, the story is very different. Because there are companies in the city that buy PET bottles for recycling, as they don’t make it here. What you will find in Minalesh Tera are the PVC jerrycans and barrels that come from factories that have served their purpose of moving large volumes of liquid sometimes from abroad. The large plastic containers are cleaned and sold for reuse. 

This converging formal and informal waste activities in Addis creates a complex system that needs to be more efficient to meet the demands of a fast-growing city. 

As a follow up to addressing this challenge, the Accelerator Lab team is designing a behavioural insight study which will be linked with our experiment to understand how individual households make decisions on sorting and recycling. We will also launch a community safari in a quest to find a diversified waste product. We will do this through engaging innovators and startups working on waste recycling to add value and contribute to waste sorting and reduce the waste which goes to the landfill.

If you are interested in this topic and have any ideas or suggestion, we would love to hear from you throughout email address ethiopia.acclab@undp.org.