Urban waste management

Creating healthier places to live and work

Waste is a universal and highly visible phenomenon. Attitudes towards solid waste are often contradictory. Affluent societies often see it plainly as garbage or an environmental problem, but in many cities in Africa and other developing countries it is an important and flexible source of income for the large part of urban population and provides raw material to many sectors of economy.

Waste collectors form a vital part of the economy in nearly every city of the developing world. Operating on the streets, kerbsides and dumps, this group of people collect, sort, clean, recycle and sell material thrown away by others, therefore contributing to public health, sanitation and environmental sustainability. According to estimates, “about 1 per cent of the urban population – at least 15 million people – survive by salvaging recyclables from waste”, in the developing world.

Practical Action are working with some of the poorest communities to safely and securely improve their waste management and collection methods. This brings improvements to the health of the slum dwelling families with the creation of safer healthier places to live and work.

Urban waste pickers in Kathmandu (PRISM)

Nepal, 2011-2014. Urban waste pickers are among the poorest people in Kathmandu valley. This project aims to improve the living conditions of informal workers in the solid waste management sector.

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Our approach

Our approach on waste-related work is similar to that in other infrastructure and services. It falls into four areas:

  1. Working towards improving service provision in slum, peri urban and low income areas. This involves making arrangements for waste collection through organising communities or influencing municipalities and private sector. We expect that the social outcome of this provision, if done at scale, is improved health and a cleaner living environment.
  2. We encourage income and employment creation from waste related activities and promote decent, safer work for the poor. This can often be combined with the provision of services in their own areas, or other areas where the income potential may be better. This is also supported by introducing innovative approaches and better technologies for waste reduction, recycling and reuse.
  3. We directly support the development of better technologies, knowledge, innovation and communication for all the actors in waste management. This can be done in a number of ways, for example by encouraging research organisations to focus on topics which benefit the poor, promoting mutual learning and enhancing abilities of self analysis and learning.
  4. We influence national and global policies in waste management in favour of poor men and women. We promote successful models and lobby for better practices globally.

First prize for Tulasa

Tulasa Gyawali from Syauli Baazar, 10 Bharatpur, Nepal, won first prize in a national innovation fair and was asked to share her story in an international symposium for her continuous effort on utilising waste in urban agriculture.

“I was honoured when I received the first prize. In my house, I have a compost bin and pits and I practice vermin composting too. I do not throw decomposable waste; instead I convert them to resources and use them to grow organic vegetables, she smiles.”

The Integrated Sustainable Waste Management (ISWM) project in collaboration with Bharatpur Municipality had earlier distributed compost bins in Syauli Baazar. Residents of the community do not throw wastes in the street corner as before. People are making compost from organic waste. They separate plastic in their homes and they sell them to the plastic collectors.

According to Tulasa, “this is one of the positive changes from the project. Waste management training to the community has changed people’s attitude toward disposing waste. Now we think waste as a resource.”

Tulasa and other community members were taken to India for a waste management exposure visit. “The visit was educating and motivating for me and to my neighbours. We observed the good practice in Forum of Recycle and Environment (FORCE), Mumbai and now we have replicated that practice in our community.”

In Tulasa’s community, 10 households have built a masonry compost pit in order to accommodate more organic waste and to sell the compost to the local nursery and farmers. This is an example of how awareness can make a difference.

You can download  technical briefs and manuals on waste management at Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action, or you can submit an enquiry to Practical Action's staff via the online form

Planning for Sustainable Solid Waste Management

This technical brief presents some important considerations for planning solid waste systems.

Managing Organic Municipal Waste

This technical brief outlines the main methods of putting organic waste to good use.

Best Practice in Solid Waste Management

This manual demonstrates successful waste management in Nepal. Practical Action Nepal

Poverty Reduction of Informal Workers in Solid Waste Management Sector (PRISM)

Project leaflet for PRISM project (PIN 5000319) which aims to improve the living conditions of informal workers in the solid waste management sector in Nepal. In English and Nepali.

Improving the urban environment in Africa: Co-operatives for waste management and community representation in Kenya

A briefing on the Kenyan component of a three-country project exploring community-based approaches to improving the urban environment in African slums and low-income settlements, concentrating on waste management, with some work on water supply.

Community-based waste management in rural areas project report

Practical Action has thus adopted an integrated waste management system to address the problem of waste in Chitungwiza, Epworth and Mbare.

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