Origins and development

Economic Aspects of Informal Sector Activities in Solid Waste Management

Informal waste workers activities contribute on the one hand to increasing material returning to a stream of secondary raw material into a closed-loop economy (resource recovery), and reduce at the same time the volume of material reaching the disposal site (avoidance of environmental impacts) thus extending the life time of it. Furthermore, these activities provide income to several hundreds of thousands of people worldwide (social impact) and can save financial resources of the public sector for solid waste collection, treatment and disposal. The informal nature of this work leads to friction and in some places competition or even open conflict between formal and informal structures. “The aim of the study is to provide reliable arguments within discussions about the impact of informal sector activities in municipal solid waste management in economic terms. As the informal sector often is regarded as little profitable, not organized or not trustworthy, only few cooperation models between public, private and informal private sector have been initiated so far. An economic argument within this discussion is supposed to be fruitful and positive.”

2009: Ouagadougou

At conferences and workshops concerned with solid waste management in low- and middle-income countries we regularly hear phrases (or slogans) such as, “Political will is essential,”
“All stakeholders should be consulted,” “Training should be provided at all levels”, and “Decision-makers should be better informed.” What realities hide behind these statements? How can they be implemented? What kinds of capacity-building activities can influence the relationships between municipal officials and the other stakeholders? Does training change things, and if so, at which levels is it needed, and how do we measure the resulting impacts? How can we improve the quality of decisions that affect solid waste management? Are the capacity needs of low-status stakeholders, such as solid waste workers and informal sector entrepreneurs, important? What are the critical points where capacity development can improve the functioning of whole systems? We need to learn from, and build upon, experience.

Discussions at the workshop focused on the experiences, problems, solutions, research proposals, reflections, and tools that are useful to practitioners in developing and transitional countries, in relation to institutional, economic, environmental, governance, technical, and socio-cultural aspects of the management of solid wastes and resources.

2006: Kolkata

The Kolkata Workshop titled Solid Waste Management and Millennium Development Goals linked MDGs with the waste management. It focused mainly on municipal solid waste – wastes from homes, shops and businesses – because satisfactory management of these wastes usually precedes – both in time and importance – satisfactory collection, treatment and disposal of other kinds of solid wastes. Whilst recycling of wastes in industrialised countries requires additional public financing, waste in low-income countries is a resource that can generate livelihoods for significant proportions of the urban populations.  Therefore solid waste management becomes not just a means of collecting and getting rid of solid wastes, but also a way of enabling many to provide for their families.  The twin challenges – (i) of providing a satisfactory and reliable collection and disposal service for all residents of a city, and (ii) of improving the living and working conditions of the large numbers waste recyclers – are daunting and complex, and there is an unfortunate tendency for managers and development workers to polarise towards one or the other.  Integration of these two aspects is vital, both for providing sustainable services and for reducing the hostility and health risks faced by the communities that convert waste into resources.

The Millennium Development Goals [Section 2.2] have set targets and sharpened focus on many issues which can improve the lives of those who manage to live on incomes that are lower than the average.  These Goals do not explicitly mention solid waste management, yet improved management of garbage and other residues can have a significant impact on many of these Goals and Targets.  One of the aims of this Workshop has been to investigate and expose the links and impacts, in order to draw attention once more to solid waste management and its essential role in improving living conditions. It produced a book titles

2004: A new structure and program

At the 2003 workshop, a strategy for the future of the CWG is discussed and agreed. Members see the CWG as the main lobby platform or voice of the SWM sector in developing countries and defines a 5- to 10-year agenda. No formal membership policy is adopted, but a small secretariat is established at Skat to coordinate the planned advocacy, networking, regional capacity building and knowledge product development activities.

1997 – 2003: Belo Horizonte – Manila -Dar es Salaam

An increasing number of institutions and individuals, up to more than 200 by 2002, get involved in filling the knowledge gaps identified in the 1995 Ittigen Conceptual Framework. Although no formal membership is defined, participants consider themselves as “members” of the group which by the year 2000 adopts its present name “Collaborative Working Group on Solid Waste Management in Low- and Middle-income Countries” and the acronym “CWG”.

CWG workshops are held in 1998, 2000 and 2003, funded by a diverse array of ESAs. The thematic focus is on the following priority issues: upgrading options for waste disposal (Belo Horizonte, 60 participants), planning for sustainable and integrated SWM(solid waste management) (Manila, 75 participants) and solid waste collection that benefits the urban poor (Dar es Salaam, 90 participants).

More than 20 key knowledge products (manuals, guidance packs, software, decision-maker’s guides) are produced by CWG members, either as single institutional contributions or as joint efforts of several members within the framework. A group of approximately ten institutions and individuals, constituting the “core group”, takes the lead of the initiative. Preparation of CWG workshops and joint development of knowledge tools / publications are instances of intensive participation, exchange and cooperation between members.

1996: Washington – Cairo

The initiative calls itself the “UMP/SDC Collaborative Programme on MSW in Low-income Countries” and organizes two international workshops to advance two of the key issues identified in Ittigen: promotion of public/private partnerships (Washington, 35 participants) and the involvement of micro and small enterprises (Cairo, 60 participants).

Participants now include representatives from the public and private sectors, ESAs, professional bodies and research institutions, from all continents. While funding of the Programme’s activities: workshops, case study research and tools development, remains in the hands if the initiators (SDC and World Bank / UMP), ownership and active involvement for the agenda gradually shifts to a broader range of actors.

1995: Ittigen

At the origin of the initiative that later came to be known as the CWG is the wish of SDC and UMP (UNCHS/Habitat, World Bank, UNDP and several ESAs) to convene ESAs to formulate a collaborative support strategy for municipal solid waste management (MSWM). In 1995 a workshop is organized in Ittigen (Switzerland) with 20 participants representing 10 organizations (ESAs, research centers and consultants). They exchange views, develop a conceptual framework for MSWM, and set up a coordinated medium-term action plan.