Informal waste workers in Nigeria
The National Union of Scrap and Waste Workers of Nigeria (NUSWON); an affiliate of The Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON), is a platform that represents those at the base of the recycling industry whose source of livelihood depends on the collection, sorting and recycling of waste. These three activities are always interrelated, reflecting the environmental implications of their work. NUSWON engages government at all levels, the private sector, local and international development agencies to promote knowledge-driven initiatives to advance the socio-economic rights of scrap and waste workers.
As you might be aware, the scrap and waste workers provide the only form of solid waste collection, providing widespread public benefit and achieving a high recycling rate. This set of informal workers also contribute to local economies, public health safety, and environmental sustainability. Waste pickers collect household and commercial/industrial waste from private bins, dumpsites, along streets, waterways, and landfills used for recycling, thereby contributing to the GDP of Nigeria's economy.
By gathering garbage from public spaces, waste pickers also contribute to cleanliness, help beautify the city, and help reduce air and water pollution. Recycling is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby helping to prevent climate change.
Despite the enormous contribution of scrap and waste workers, they still face many challenges ranging from social, economic, and health. Scrap and waste pickers are often subjected to social stigma, constant harassment, and poor living and working conditions. There is also a problem of inadequate space for sorting and storing collected waste materials.
Furthermore, they are often treated as nuisances by authorities and with disdain by the public. Basically, they have been completely excluded from public policy processes and may even be arrested or physically assaulted.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed these workers to many health risks. Waste pickers are exposed to contaminants and hazardous waste materials, from fecal matter and medical waste to toxic fumes and chemicals.
- They call on the federal government and their counterparts at state and local levels to provide policy and support programs that will enhance the socio-economic life of scrap and waste workers. The lack of workers' protection and poor access to health care has aggravated the risks of scrap and waste workers. Therefore, they call for a comprehensive social protection program for waste workers. The need for personal protection equipment (PPE) is also of topmost necessity, especially at this period of Covid-19 as waste pickers are prone to health risks by collecting medical waste.
- So they call on the Government, NGO, and Corporate Body to look into the area of providing spaces such as Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for sorting and storing and training and technical support for waste workers. Financial support provision is also crucial for the survival of scrap and waste workers due to their inability to accumulate capital, expand, and improve their activities.
With my startup, Realixo (read this article to know it better), we want to give more secure job conditions and a fixed salary to some of the informal waste pickers. If you are interested in zero-waste, solid waste management, and social, ethical, and circular economy, please comment on this article or share it.