Professor David C. Wilson
Waste & Resources Management Consultant
Visiting Professor in Waste Management
Imperial College, London

New tool to strengthen the informal recycling sector

The informal recycling sector makes an important and often undervalued contribution to solid waste management in many developing countries. They sit at the base of what is often now a global supply chain for recycled materials, and like other primary producers could benefit from initiatives to add value to the materials they collect. Professor David C Wilson’s team at Imperial College London have just published a new tool, based on Value Chain Analysis (VCA) as developed to improve the livelihood of poor farmers in Africa, using the iconic Zabaleen recyclers in Cairo as the demonstration case. VCA provides a significant and powerful addition to the analytical tools available for improving the position of the informal recycling sector. The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling, can be downloaded free-of-charge until 17 September 2016.

The informal recycling sector can achieve recycling rates of 20-40%, significantly reducing the burden falling on the city for managing the remaining solid waste. However, there are serious issues of poor working conditions, child labour and uncontrolled dumping of residual wastes. Considerable efforts have been put into integrating the informal recyclers into a city’s formal solid waste management system, to everyone’s benefit: the recyclers can work under cleaner conditions, earn a better livelihood and educate their children; recycling rates can potentially increase; and the transition can facilitate environmental control, as well as bringing the ‘informal’ sector inside the legal and tax systems. DCW has been actively researching this area for more than 10 years; his 2006 review has more than 180 citations, while a 2012 paper developed the InteRa framework and tool for use in designing interventions for informal sector integration. He first researched the potential for adapting Value Chain Analysis (VCA) for use in this sector in 2009 with Dr Sanjay Gupta in India, and was delighted to have the opportunity in summer 2015 to carry out fieldwork with the GIZ National Solid Waste Management Programme project team in Egypt on this paper. The lead author is Remi Jaligot, then a Masters student at Imperial College London, and the other co-authors are Prof Chris Cheeseman of Imperial and Berti Shaker and Joachim Stretz of GIZ Egypt.