From Trash to Triumph: Tanga City's Waste Pickers Leading a Green Revolution

June 5, 2023
Tanga waste pickers

Raeli weighing plastic debris she collected from illegal dumps in Tanga.

UNDP Tanzania
Tanzania's Tanga City is witnessing a remarkable green revolution as it embraces the empowering story of waste pickers. Led by the Taka Ni Ajira Foundation and the UNDP Accelerator Lab, the ground-breaking 'Waste Banks' project is transforming the city's waste management system, promoting a circular economy, and uplifting marginalised waste pickers like Ms. Raeli Athuman Zuberi. This initiative not only highlights the untapped potential of waste as a valuable resource but also showcases the strength and resilience of individuals in the face of adversity. Together, they are paving the way for a sustainable future and inspiring systemic change that extends beyond Tanga City.

Meet Ms. Raeli Athuman Zuberi, a remarkable thirty-year-old mother of two and a waste picker from the vibrant city of Tanga, Tanzania. Since 2019, Raeli has fearlessly charted her path through the challenging world of waste management, steadfastly earning a modest $5 per day to ensure the well-being of her family. Her inspiring journey serves as a powerful testament to the unwavering determination and strength demonstrated by individuals like her in the face of unformidable adversity.

Waste picking is often seen as a last resort for those facing unemployment, accompanied by struggle and societal stigma. Waste pickers like Raeli find themselves confronted with numerous challenges, including deplorable work conditions, health risks and discrimination. Yet, despite the odds, their spirits remain unbroken, fuelled by the hope of a brighter future.

This hope is not in vain. A revolutionary initiative led by the Taka ni Ajira and the UNDP Accelerator Lab is currently underway in Tanga City. At the forefront of this transformative endeavour is the ground-breaking 'Waste Banks' project which aims to redirect the city towards a circular economy, facilitated by digital innovation and an array of social incentives.

At the core of this initiative lies a revolutionary mobile app, designed to empower waste pickers in ways never seen before. Through this innovative tool, waste pickers can efficiently record vital data related to their collections, aiding the city's waste management while simultaneously building a credit history for these informal workers. This, in turn, allows them to access social benefits and significantly improves their living conditions.

Reflecting on the initiative’s ambitions the UNDP project lead Mr. Peter Nyanda shared, "Our objective reaches far beyond enhancing waste management alone. We strive to reshape perceptions and dismantle social barriers. By recognising the indispensable role waste pickers play in our communities, we aim to showcase their potential in driving sustainable development when equipped with the right support and opportunities. " 

The project has far-reaching implications, extending beyond just waste management. It's about reimagining roles and inspiring systemic change. Through this initiative, waste pickers like Raeli are recast as environmental custodians, data collectors, and integral contributors to the city's economy.

As Mr. Kizito Nkwabi, City Environment Officer of Tanga City, puts it, "Our waste pickers are at the heart of Tanga's transition to a circular economy. They are not just fighting climate change; they are paving the way for a sustainable future for everyone. Their work is crucial, and it's time we recognised and appreciated it." 

Tanga waste pickers

"We are no longer waste pickers, we are part of something bigger" - Raeli, waste picker from Tanga, expresses her confidence in the transformative power of the 'Waste Banks' project, giving her a voice to protect the environment.

UNDP Tanzania

The impact of the 'Waste Banks' project extends beyond Tanga City, serving as a model for cities worldwide. It highlights the transformative power of digital innovation and the untapped potential of marginalised groups when equipped with the right tools and presented with favourable opportunities.

Raeli herself expressed hope for the future, saying, "This project has given us a voice and a purpose. We are no longer just waste pickers; we are a part of something bigger. We are helping our city, our planet. And in the process, we are building a better life for our children." 
Her empowering words underscore the heart of this transformative initiative, merging innovation with sustainability and recognising waste as an untapped resource rather than a burden. As we witness Raeli's journey and the transformation of Tanga City, we are reminded of the strength within us all. Her story showcases the potential for change when empowered individuals reimagine waste as a valuable resource. Beyond transforming waste, it's about transforming lives and systems, forging an inclusive, sustainable future where all can thrive 
The collaboration between Taka Ni Ajira Foundation and the UNDP Accelerator Lab Tanzania is a powerful force for change, we can't do it alone. We need support from investors, policymakers, corporations, and individuals. Together, we must commit to driving the circular economy transition in Tanzania. 
Taka Ni Ajira Foundation believes in the potential of waste pickers like Raeli and envisions a future where waste pickers are recognised as essential contributors to the circular economy, not marginalized individuals. This project is a step towards that future, and they are dedicated to making it a reality. 
Investing in this project means investing in people like Raeli. It means empowering individuals to turn their struggles into strengths, their burdens into opportunities. By doing so, we set in motion a cycle of prosperity that uplifts not only individuals, but entire communities.

Now is the time to step up and invest in a greener, more equitable future. Every investment, no matter how small, can ignite a wave of change that extends throughout Tanga City and beyond. 
Join us in supporting this crucial project and help us turn waste into wealth. Together, let's catalyse a circular economy transition that is truly #ForPeopleForPlanet.