One of DCW’s research interests at Imperial College is the contribution made to waste management in developing country cities by the often large informal recycling sector. This paper focuses on quantifying the contribution of the informal sector, and particularly that of the itinerant waste buyers who collect clean, source separated materials from door to door; and on how to build further on this solid foundation. The paper is published in the February 2009 volume of the journal Waste Management, and is available online.

Many developing country cities aspire to modern waste management systems, which are associated with relatively high recycling rates of clean, source separated materials. Most already have informal sector recycling systems, which are driven solely by the revenues derived from selling recovered materials, even though they are saving the formal sector money by reducing waste quantities. There is clear potential for ‘win-win’ co-operation between the formal and informal sectors, as providing support to the informal sector, to build recycling rates and to address some of the social issues could reduce the overall costs of waste management for the formal sector. This paper shows that recycling rates already achieved by the informal sector can be quite high, typically in the range from 20-50%; often up to half of this is in the form of clean, source separated materials collected directly from households and businesses by itinerant waste buyers (IWBs). Four country case studies provide a number of lessons on how this solid foundation could be used to build high recycling rates of clean materials. DCW’s co-authors are Dr Chris Cheeseman, also in the Centre for Environmental Control and Waste Management at Imperial; former MSc student Kaine Chinwah; and Adebisi Araba, his PhD student in the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial. The paper reference is doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2008.06.016; Waste Management, Volume 29, Issue 2, February 2009, pages 629-635.