The poor are bearing the burden
Waste in the Slums
We’ve all seen pictures and television footage of people living in slums across the world. But what you might not know is that there’s a slum population of more than one billion people and that by 2020, this figure is expected to double. Imagine living in this suffocating overcrowded environment surrounded by mounds of uncollected dirty waste. In many slums, a family of six will share a space no bigger than one small room. The only areas for children to play are breeding grounds for flies, cockroaches and rats; increasing the health risks for many people. We believe everyone has the right to live and work in a clean environment. Because of poverty, many people have no option but to live in slums. So we’re working with some of the poorest communities to safely and securely improve their waste management and collection methods. This brings improvements to the health of the slum dwelling families and the creation of safer healthier places to live and work.
Who collects the waste in these regions?
When waste is collected it’s often by the poorest people; putting slum dwellers on the front-line and exposing them to health issues and extremely tough working conditions. Local authorities’ employ a large number of manual workers as waste pickers to recycle and separate waste in the streets and prepare it for the disposal sites.
• • • 4 million tonnes of waste is produced every day across the world. That’s the equivalent of 1 million truck loads. Each person generates an average of 0.5kg of waste per day. In high income areas where consumption is greater, the average amount of waste produced is 1.5kg per person, per day. Some 10 million chronically poor people rely on waste picking for their day-to-day survival. Waste reduction is an essential policy and strategy in the fight against climate change.
On average 50% of waste not collected in slum areas is due to the local authorities’ lack of skills and resources to serve a growing urban population. Large waste-collection lorries are unable to drive down the narrow streets of the slums and often slum dwellers are unable to pay the charges levied by the waste contractor. As a result, the local authorities’ see these communities as undeserving of waste-collection services because they do not contribute to local taxes. Up to 40% of the local authorities’ operational budgets is spent on waste-related activities, usually benefitting commercial, high and middle income areas only.
At a local level
It is estimated that 10 million chronically poor people rely on waste picking for their day to day survival. Practical Action works alongside poor communities to find practical solutions for an affordable waste-collection service. We actively seek to help form co-operatives and introduce new technologies and working methods for the waste pickers. We know this approach works and improves the local environment whilst creating employment opportunities and better working conditions. By working together communities are able to plan and prioritise their needs and create productive partnerships.
What happens to waste that is collected?
Some slum waste if collected is disposed of in an uncontrolled manner, often polluting water supplies and creating dirt, smoke and dust, which affects the health of nearby communities and degrades the land.
At a national level
Practical Action works with local and national governments on policy development and the strategic planning of waste management. This allows us to influence high-level thinking on issues that impact the poor. The adoption of our proposed working systems have led to more regular waste services for slum areas, and the people who rely on waste picking for their livelihoods are better treated.
Practical Action’s integrated approach works on waste reduction; recycling and waste-collection. Technologies are useful in all these processes, for example we have introduced bicycle trailers for collecting separated household waste; a machine for washing plastics; and composting initiatives to households and communities. Waste-collection and recycling organisations have been trained in social and environmental business principles in order to asses the wider market systems for waste products to see where changes can bring the greatest benefit to the poor.
Workers sorting waste paper at Kijabe recycling centre in Kenya
Project in Action
'Clean Max' machine which washes plastics for recycling.
Simple techniques work wonders: Nepal
Working with partner organisations Practical Action has provided support with training activities and field visits to help households understand solid waste management systems in Nepal. Before 2003 residents were careless about the problems associated with excessive use of plastics, and it was a common sight to see garbage lying in public areas. Since then, significant environmental improvements have been achieved by local women’s groups who have taken action to reduce the amount of waste plastic in eight areas of Bharatupur district, Nepal. Residents have been encouraged to segregate plastic bags from other waste and push them onto a suiro, which is a metal hook with a long stem that can hold large numbers of bags so they are not scattered to the winds. Using the suiro has helped to reduce the quantities of mixed waste and the careless dumping of waste. This is not only reducing the amounts of plastic waste in the urban area but also making people aware of the environmental problems caused by plastics. The women’s groups collect around 2 tonnes of plastics every month, more than a tonne of plastics can be sold to generate an income. The plastic is collected using 2 rickshaws that can carry 300-500 kg of recovered waste that is transported to the dumping site designated by Bharatpur municipality. With Practical Action’s support the programme has demonstrated that an income can be generated from solid waste and other areas are now adopting the scheme.
Woman showing aubergines she has grown in her garden in Sri Lanka.
Composting and home gardening
Practical Action recognises the positive benefits of composting for poor families. With better management of waste, households can produce rich compost that can be used on gardens, which will improve the soil, thereby increasing productivity. This provides poor families with a variety of fresh vegetables to eat, as well as a small income from the surplus vegetables. Lalitha and her family are just one of the many households who have seen the benefit of receiving a compost bin; a small supply of seeds and technical advice from Practical Action’s field officers on how to plan the garden. Before receiving seeds and advice Lalitha used her garden to grow a few banana trees along with some pot plants, now she has a flourishing garden packed with vegetables. “My neighbours come and ask about the garden and I’m happy to tell them” says Lalitha. A variety of seeds sent to her from extended family living in the hill country has increased the selection of vegetables Lalitha is able to grow. By putting most of her household waste in the compost bin and adding a special green leaved plant to help boost the nitrogen levels, she is able to use this as compost on the garden and from time to time she spends a small amount on cow dung and coir, which is also put on the garden. “Since I’ve had the compost bin I have less kitchen waste and the house and garden are tidy” said Lalitha. Growing vegetables has meant Lalitha can save money as she no longer has to buy all her vegetables from the market – just dhal (lentils) and potatoes. With the money she saves she is able to contribute towards the household bills and is happy in the knowledge the food her family are eating is free of chemicals. With the excess vegetables she is able to help family members by providing them with vegetables such as green chillies when they are out of season and the prices are high.
Community based waste-collection: Zimbabwe
More than 16,000 people in the slums of Epworth, Zimbabwe receive no refuse collection service creating widespread open dumping that increases the risks to resident’s health. Practical Action has been working with newly formed community-based organisations (CBOs) and the local authorities’ to set up a project to collect and recycle waste. This is now providing the waste collectors with an income as well as increasing their environmental awareness.
Project in Action
Waste separation and composting at home: Sri Lanka
The idea of separating waste is not new to poor people around the world, especially where certain kinds of waste have a resale value. However, where systems for dealing with separated waste do not exist, householders have little option but to dump their waste on the street. In Kurunegala, Sri Lanka, we have introduced more than 850 home-composting bins into poor neighbourhoods, and also encouraged people to use waste products to make their own compost bins. As well as generating vital income – when sold the bins have improved the local environment and enabled families to grow fruit and vegetables at home.
Practical Action has been working with slum dwellers in Faridpur, Bangladesh where we have helped to start a waste-collection service. The local authority provided the land to construct a compost plant where waste collected by the slum dwellers is taken and composted the compost is then used to grow seedlings and plants for sale, an excellent example of an integrated system of waste-collection.
Co-operative member with sacks ready for transportation on handcarts.
Waste paper recycling – Kenya
Every day more than 200 tonnes of waste paper is collected from across Nairobi. With local authorities’ failing to provide adequate services to deal with the problem, it was left to a group of individuals from across the city to form a co-operative of paper recyclers. Peter travels 20km a day collecting waste paper on his hand cart around the streets of Nairobi, and is just one of many paper recyclers who operate from Nairobi’s slums. Before joining the co-operative Peter used to collect around 1.5 tonnes of paper per day but experienced times when he was unable to sell his paper for recycling. Since joining the co-operative he collects more than 3 tonnes of waste paper and would like his son to join him one day. “When I started, we were very poor but now I’m able to educate my children, build a better home and generally improve our lifestyle,” says Peter. Practical Action played a key role in establishing the co-operative and highlighting the problems to Government, the UN, Council Ministry of Environment and National Environment Management Authority. We also worked with co-operative members to produce a business model and advise on business management such as micro-finance, loan management and public health.
Practical Action’s projects promote improved methods of cleaning the slums and creating a healthy environment; we also recognise the importance of waste-collection and recycling in sustainable development. We will continue to support an integrated approach to waste management in order to improve the local environment, create jobs for poor people and promote technologies and systems to reduce the waste quantities and increase recycling. At a national and international level we will continue to influence the policies and practices in support of an integrated waste management system, contributing to sustainable development.
If you would like to know more about waste management and development or Practical Action’s work in general, please contact: Supporter Services Unit, Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ T +44 (0)1926 634400 F +44 (0)1926 634401 E firstname.lastname@example.org W www.practicalaction.org.uk
Practical Action is a registered company limited by guarantee | Registered Charity No. 247257 I Company Registration No. 871954 I Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB. Whilst stories in this leaflet are true, names and photos have been changed to protect the identity of individuals. Photography: Karen Robinson, Practical Action Kenya, Lucy Stevens, and Justine Williams. Printed on 100% recycled paper.