A day in a life of Waste Collectors at Lusaka and Ndola dumpsites

March 10, 2021

Women dump collectors in Lusaka's main dumpsite.

By Roselyne Mwila, Head of Exploration; Salome Nakazwe, Head of Solutions Mapping and Nampaka Nkumbula, Head of Experimentation

Imagine your workplace having smoke from the burning trash and dusty sandy storms bashing you for more than 8 hours in a day. On top of it, you must scavenge through waste bags with leftover food, used diapers, bottles of various household cleaning agents, plastics and so many other things. You don’t have to imagine anymore. These are the conditions that thousands of Waste Collectors in Lusaka and Ndola endure daily. The Zambia Accelerator Lab (AccLab) team spent a day each with the Waste Collectors in Ndola and Lusaka and our experience was an eye opening one.

During our explorative visits conducted in partnership with the Lusaka City Council (LCC) and Ndola City Council (NCC), we found most of the Waste Collectors without even the basic Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These should include Gum Boots, Overalls, Gloves and Masks.

Meeting with Waste Collectors in Ndola

The Ndola based Waste Collectors were working in a non-organized manner. It is difficult to determine who and when someone becomes a Waste Collector. Anyone as long as they can withstand the conditions at the dumpsite, can go and collect whatever they can. We learnt that some of the elderly Waste Collectors use their small grandchildren to collect valuable waste on their behalf. The issue of child labour is one NCC has been grappling with and they have from time to time organized sensitization meetings with the Waste Collectors to try and educate them on the need to stop this vice.

Some Waste Collectors during the meeting

Scramble for resources

While we were in a meeting, a group of young and energetic men ran towards a truck that was approaching the dumpsite. They had to go and secure the most valuable resources before the truck could get to the dumping area. One of the NCC officials lamented that it’s a daily occurrence and in certain instances it ends in accidents where Waste Collectors fall from the trucks and injure themselves.

Waste Collectors getting on the truck before the waste is offloaded

One of the elderly female Waste Collectors indicated that the scramble for resources is what forces them to engage their grandchildren as they are likely to compete with the young men in climbing moving trucks and securing valuables.

We further learnt that there are more challenges that the Waste Collectors face including difficulties in the transportation of their goods from the dumpsite to the recycling companies, enduring insults from those who come drunk and having their collected waste products stolen from them. The key solutions that they proposed that will address some of these challenges were as follows:

1. Form an association that will help to control the access and management of the Ndola dumpsite as well as negotiate prices with the Recyclers.

2. Conduct training that will equip the Waste Collectors with knowledge of grading and the importance of taking clean waste products to the Recyclers.

3. Come up with operating guidelines that will ensure systematic entry into the business and the code of conduct for Waste Collectors when they are at the dumpsite.

4. Partner with like-minded organisations like the UNDP to work with them and the Council to improve the conditions at the dumpsite.

Meeting with Waste Collectors in Lusaka

A visit to Lusaka’s landfill located in Chunga revealed other dynamics that were different from what we found in Ndola. The place that was originally intended to operate as an engineered landfill but over the years it has been reduced to the dumpsite. Most of the equipment does not operate at optimal levels and the waste is just dumped.

The Waste Collectors at Chunga had a systematic way of doing business. First of all, there is someone in charge of all the Waste Collectors and one cannot go into the dumpsite without going through this individual. Thus, the barrier to entry in Waste management in Lusaka is very high. The fight for resources was even more fierce here than in Ndola. We were told that if we did not go with the Council Police, we could have been beaten. But well, even in the presence of the Council police, the Waste Collectors managed to deliberately kick the ball into the face of one the AccLab team members.

The Waste Collectors indicated that they have had formal engagements with Manja Pamodzi, the initiative by Zambian Breweries. Most of them go to sell their waste products to the Manja Pamodzi Aggregators. Their engagement with Manja Pamodzi has provided them with an opportunity to get training and support such as PPEs and provides them with a ready market for the plastic waste products. We learnt that there is a proper hierarchical involvement in the waste value chain. If you are a Waste Collector, you cannot do aggregation and vice versa. There are specific people that do Waste Collection, Aggregation and Recycling.

One of the main issues that the Waste Collectors as well as the Truck drivers that were delivering the waste indicated was the need for people to separate their waste. They also emphasized the need for people to pay for the waste collection services and to avoid dumping the waste in streams and drainages. They suggested the need to mount educational and awareness campaigns to educate the citizens of Lusaka to separate waste at source so that it is easier for the waste collection companies to transport the waste to the dumpsite and make it easier for the Collectors to sort through waste. The sorted waste will also mean that most of the recyclables could easily be transported to the aggregation points enroute to the recycling companies.

Call to Action

Next time when you are preparing waste to be picked up by the Waste Collection Companies, think about the Waste Collectors. Is the waste you are sending to the dumpsite good enough for someone to go and dip their hands in? You can play your part by;

  • Separating waste at source
  • Learning the value of waste and making sure that only waste that can not be recycled is sent to the dumpsite
  • Not dumping waste in undesignated places.

The AccLab team with the Inclusive Growth Unit at UNDP Zambia Country office through the Waste Management and Youth Project has been providing support to the LCC, NCC and the Waste Collectors to address some of the issues raised during the explorative visits. What will you do to make the waste management sustainable?

Contact us on accLab.zm@undp.org