Waste pickers, also known as Baban Bollas, are the unsung heroes who help manage the majority of Nigeria’s 32 million tonnes of solid waste each year.
In Nigeria, less than 45% of households have access to the government’s formal waste collection systems, leaving a larger percentage of homes to dispose of their waste indiscriminately. In cities, informal waste collectors fill in the gaps where official collectors are not available. However, these collectors do more than just collect trash; a portion of them scavenge for recyclable trash and trade in informal markets for money to support their livelihoods.
This informal scavenging contributes to a large amount of the recyclable waste collected across Nigeria. According to the Statista Research Department, only about 4.7% of waste is collected by the government, and 59.3% is collected through informal collectors. These waste collectors are known for making a significant contribution to waste management through the collection, sorting, trading, and occasionally even processing of waste materials. Their waste collection services fill the gap left by municipal and other waste management authorities, especially in low-income areas and informal settlements.
Despite being the essential workers for Nigeria’s waste recovery and circular economy, the more than 1 million waste pickers who work across Nigerian cities do so in unprotected, unsafe, and disenfranchised conditions.
The average waste picker often works without protective gear, unassisted, and without access to primary care or first aid, as well as employment regulations. They operate on the margins of or outside the formal process of managing solid waste but play vital roles, especially in reuse, recycling, and cost recovery. They work in unsheltered environments and are unprotected from severe heat, sun, rain, and cold weather. To scavenge, these waste pickers sort through household waste bins, street dumps, and even large community dumps with nothing but their bare hands and a loose sack on their shoulders, walking long distance, inhaling toxins, and unprotected to the intense heat or cold.
Apart from being essential to waste resource recovery, government policies, and new investments in sustainability and waste management, the circular economy has often excluded them or, in some cases, further demonized their work.
But in order to increase recycling collection in Nigeria, Ecobarter is incorporating groups of waste pickers into its last-mile collection system to promote post-consumer recovery in a way that is trackable and socially and environmentally sustainable.
With the support of the Roddenberry Foundation, Ecobarter will be providing personal protective equipment like overalls and hand gloves to hundreds of waste pickers across Abuja. The support also entails providing a fast-track literacy training and equipping select clusters of waste pickers with modified push carts to improve their logistics as they get integrated into ecobarter’s system as last-mile collectors.
With this partnership, Ecobarter is looking to improve the working conditions of informal waste pickers across Abuja, as well as their potential to transition into more decent sustainable employment and out of poverty.