Waste Pickers in Nigeria form an integral part of the economy. In the vast landscape of waste management, waste pickers exists as a group of unsung heroes, they are essential service providers who play a pivotal role in keeping our cities clean and sustainable.
These individuals popularly known as waste pickers or “Baban Bolla” are the backbone of waste recovery, contributing significantly to the recycling and circular economy market.
Despite their indispensable services, waste pickers in Nigeria are often marginalized; facing challenges that demand urgent recognition, regulation, and integration into the formal waste management system.
The Essential Role of Waste Pickers
- Primary Waste Collectors: In Nigeria, 6 out of 10 households opt for informal waste collectors over formal government-contracted services. These waste pickers are responsible for collecting and disposing of waste, playing a critical role in waste management.
- Promoting Recycling and Circular Economy: An astounding 95% of waste recovery, which fuels Nigeria’s recycling and circular economy market, is carried out by these informal waste collectors. Their efforts are fundamental to sustainable waste management practices.
- The Hard Labour: Waste pickers are the frontline warriors in the battle against environmental degradation. Their tasks involve collecting, sorting, and reducing waste, preventing Nigerian cities from drowning in the consequences of improper waste disposal and providing employment for millions.
Challenges Faced by Waste Pickers
- Disenfranchisement and Stigma: Despite their pivotal role, waste pickers face varying degrees of disenfranchisement. Recent incidents of displacement and destruction of recovered materials not only set them back financially but also release toxic gases into the environment.
- Public Perception and Collective Punishment: Demonization on radio programs and support for collective punishment by government agencies, citing reasons such as theft and security challenges, further compound the challenges faced by waste pickers.
The Need for Waste Pickers Integration
- Economic Significance: A single 20-ton load of recyclable waste indirectly supports 52 families involved in collection, sorting, and loading. The economic impact of waste picking provides a sustainable income for millions of low-skilled youths that conventional employment schemes may overlook.
- Contributions to the Waste Economy: Nigeria’s waste economy is a powerhouse worth over $1 billion annually, with waste pickers serving as the most reliable foot soldiers to unlock its vast potential.
- Environmental Impact: Integrating waste pickers is crucial for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving public health, and unlocking millions of decent jobs for underserved youths.
The Call for Recognition and Integration
To address these issues, it is imperative for the government to:
- Partner with Waste Pickers: Collaborate with waste pickers and recycling associations to register and leverage existing community systems.
- Vet and Match: Vetted waste pickers should be matched with formal recycling collectors, equipped with protective gear, identification, and access to necessary resources to enhance working conditions.
By recognizing, regulating, and integrating waste pickers, Nigeria can unlock the immense potential of its waste economy, mitigate environmental challenges, and provide millions of young workers with sustainable livelihoods.
It’s a call to regulate and integrate, a call to leave no one behind on the path to a cleaner and greener future.