Curious about what goes on in the usual day of an urban waste picker? Watch them tell their stories.

“My name is Zakat Ziboh.  I wake up early in the morning at 5 am, take my bath, get dressed, pick up my tools and my sack to go out and look for scraps. When I go out, sometimes, I get a lot of money, other times, I  don’t get anything but that doesn’t stop me from going the next day” – Zakat Ziboh, Informal Waste Picker. 

Waste management remains a major challenge in Africa as just a little over 50% of the waste generated is collected. The collection services remain inadequate and the changing consumption patterns and weaker collection systems result in the leakage of waste into the environment according to Mordor intelligence.

In Ghana, the rate at which waste is produced in the urban areas is disturbing; and the government has not laid out any equivalent measure to bring this alarming situation to a halt. Informal waste pickers collect recyclable and other useful materials which they sell in local markets to make income. The activities of waste pickers have continued to grow since the early 1990s in Ghana due to the inadequacies of the formal sector. In the capital city (Accra) alone, the entry of informal waste collectors has helped to increase waste collection coverage from 75% to 90% as well as supporting waste management services across the 261 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) (Oduro-Appiah et al., 2019). 

According to the Municipal Coordinating Director for La Dade Kotopon Municipal Assembly, the waste pickers and collectors are key in our quest in cleaning the city. Hence its partnership with GAYO to formalise the activities of waste pickers. This would create an opportunity for them to be seen and recognized as a body that is helping waste collection in the municipality. 

The noninvolvement of waste pickers in the fight against inefficient waste management is a huge gap to be bridged if we want to actualize the clean city dream and promote social justice. “If the government formalises us, we would be very happy because in some areas we are seen as thieves and beaten because of some individual actions. We are afraid but myself and the family have to eat………….” Raymond Adjei (Waste picker)

Informal Waste pickers are mostly not formally recognized as key actors in the waste management sector and are left out of decision-making processes. The informal waste pickers contribute significantly to waste management by collecting, sorting, trading and sometimes even processing waste materials. With an increasing waste collection efficiency, formalizing their activities can create more room for further public participation towards waste management and create a platform to engage both the formal and informal stakeholders. “In Edubiase, monthly with the assistance of waste workers, 8000kg of organic waste is collected from the communities and converted to fertilizers and  600kg of plastic recycled to items including bags, raincoat, shower caps, raincoat, aprons etc)” Mohammed Shaibu Tiyumba, Project Coordinator, New Edubiase, GAYO.

Through the Sustainable Community Project,  GAYO proposes a waste management model that is hinged on achieving zero waste and exploiting the economic benefits of waste recycling in local communities. The model depends on waste pickers to collect recyclables and transport them to a materials recovery facility where recycling takes place. The project originating from the Ashanti Region of Ghana Edubiase has been scaled to other locations, including, Cape Coast, Abuakwa, and Accra. With a time period of 7 years, the project has created impacts such as diverting waste from landfills, building the capacity of stakeholders including women, youth and scaling revenue generation. “We are supporting the waste workers to integrate recovery into their waste collection for increased efficiency in waste management” Betty Osei Bonsu, Project Coordinator, Accra, GAYO.

“Humanity has eyes that are sharp enough to see the poor who collect garbage from the dumps, but humanity does not have enough heart to help them”. – Mehmet Murat Ildan

GAYO, as part of its activities on climate justice, creates awareness of the activities of waste pickers and advocates for their inclusion in dialogues and policymaking. Organizes forums bringing stakeholders in the waste management value chain with the aim of establishing a centralized body for engagement to better advance informal waste workers’ interests. An example is the International Waste Pickers Day celebration celebrated every year. This year on the topic: “Your Waste My Treasure”, GAYO is sharing light on the plights of informal waste pickers and the need for inclusion in the waste management value chain. With a documentary on its yearly series, the Journey of the Urban Informal waste pickers, 4 waste pickers were interviewed in Accra with their story shared.

The importance of this celebration is to highlight the experiences waste pickers are succumbed to and the opportunity for governments to invest in zero waste systems that create green jobs. In Cape Coast, waste pickers are linked to middlemen to facilitate the purchasing of their recovered materials, health and safety training are organized for them whilst securing spaces for them to store their collected waste. “We are creating a bottom-up approach to waste management as we always engage the waste workers in consultative meetings geared towards waste management solutions” Success Sowah, Project Coordinator Cape Coast, GAYO.

“In Abuakwa, the strategy doesn’t differ as we are creating conducive grounds for the waste workers to be integrated to the waste management and recovery done by the Assembly. We see it as a form of grass root mobilization and creating a path for just transition” Eldad Ankom, Project Coordinator Kumasi, GAYO.

Thus GAYO’s presence in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, to join the United Nations Environment Assembly discussion on an international framework to address the growing problem of waste, especially plastics in the world’s oceans and landscape. We recognize the importance of waste workers’ inclusion in the Global Plastic Treaty and the need for a globally binding agreement. Following this, GAYO would be designing a national strategy for waste workers integration. This guideline aims to provide a holistic approach for integrating or strengthening associations amongst all waste workers both local and national. As part of the Accra Zero Waste Project, more than 300 waste pickers and collectors have been formalized. In the Ga East Municipality, more than 150 waste pickers are being registered through a project known as Formalizing the Informal Waste Collectors by GAYO in partnership with the  Institute of Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS), and the Ga East Municipal Assembly.

“Additionally, the Ladade Kotopon Municipal Assembly and GAYO have registered one hundred and fifty waste pickers who are considered in the value chain as helping to clear the waste in the municipality. We need all stakeholders to assist in helping the waste workers to be able to do their work and help us achieve the clean city we all want to see. – LADMA Coordinating Director, Mr Daniel Nkrumah

GAYO is therefore on this international Waste Pickers Day 2022 advocating for all stakeholders to join hands in supporting waste pickers.

We are humans as you are and this is the job we do for a living!  Zakat Ziboh.