Waste Collectors' Lives

Waste Collector's Lives


Any one of us has probably seen the pictures of people picking waste on one of the vast waste sites in a developing region. Around the world millions of people make a living of collecting and selling recyclable materials. Even though waste collectors play a vital part in the recycling industry, they face low levels of pay (often well below the World Bank poverty line), low social status and large income insecurity.

Waste Collectors Area in Dar es Salaam.
Source: Refabdar

Some statistics on waste collectors in Eastern Africa, based on the comprehensive the Informal Economy Monitoring Study report by WIEGO (2013) are:

  • 47 percent men, 52 percent women
  • 90 percent of waste collector households rely solely on the informal sector for their income
  • Mean income: USD 2 per day. This income has dropped considerably with the steep drop in plastic prices over the last two years
  • 80% of waste collector households rely on a one-person income
  • Avarage household size: 3.71
  • Main materials collected are: Metal, plastic, bones and the soles of shoes
Waste Collectors Interviewed as part of the Refabdar Project
Source: Refabdar

The three most important considerations that negatively impact waste collector’s lives are:

  1. Low and fluctuating prices, including unfair pricing by middle men
  2. Poor working conditions, harassment and discrimination by society and encountering toxic substances, especially when working with e-waste on waste sites
  3. Harassment by government institution, especially when dealing with private waste collectors hired by the government.

In the redistribution model we are developing we’ll aim to work on several of these indicators:

  • Create a steady and reliable income stream that is guaranteed for the group of waste collectors we work with.
  • Supply the waste collector group we work with with the equipment needed to pick up and carry the plastic without risk to their health.
  • Secure pick up location where collectors know they can find clean plastics, such as hotels, restaurants, and bars
  • There’s very little private waste collection in the regions where we work. Though the fact that we’re organising waste collectors in a group and can serve as a representation

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