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Written by Joshua Palfreman


Country Tanzania

May 13, 2015


waste picker


Waste recycling in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is not spearheaded by any government, private or civil society initiative but rather by the efforts of an informal army of self-employed, micro-entrepreneurial waste pickers. Such a substantial human resource can play an instrumental role in cleaning up Tanzania’s capital if sufficiently understood and mapped out, however previous scholarship covering this invisible sector does not exist. One on one interviews and focus group discussions are conducted with fifty waste pickers across Dar es Salaam. A total of fifteen informal recycling transfer stations and one official government managed dumpsite is mapped out across the city that respectively support the operations of approximately 1,237 waste pickers. Waste pickers were found to have a collection capacity of up to twenty kilograms per day and an income potential of $108USD per month based on identified market rates for the most commonly traded waste materials.


The study used an eclectic methodology—sourcing a mix of original fieldwork, scholarly literature, official statistics and interviews in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania between 1st and 29th August 2013.

The study began by mapping out informal recycling transfer stations across all three of Dar es Salaam’s three districts: Ilala, Kinondoni and Temeke. Informal recycling transfer stations were identified through discussions with informally and formally employed professionals in the waste management and recycling industry in Tanzania including: the Dar es Salaam City Council and the World Bank. Upon identifying a new recycling transfer station, GPS coordinates were recorded for the site and uploaded onto a custom Google map. A few criteria were applied when deciding whether to include a recycling transfer station in the study, these included:

a)  recycling transfer station must process at least one metric tonne of recyclables per week
b)  recycling transfer station must present evidence that it has been in operation, in the same location for at least three years
c)  recycling transfer station must be recognized and supported by local business, religious and locally elected government leaders

One-on-one interviews were held with three waste pickers at each informal recycling transfer station and eight waste pickers at the city dumpsite, Pugu Kinyamwezi amounting to fifty waste pickers interviewed across fourteen different informal recycling transfer stations and one city dumpsite. Waste pickers were questioned on a wide range of topics including: health, safety and use of personal protective equipment during work, travel patterns, carrying capacity and use of non-motorized or motorized transport during work, market trading trends in relation to the sale of collected recyclables, recyclable materials collected and traded and the average monthly income from the trade of recyclables.


Situated on the tropical shores of East Africa, the diverse and opportunity rich metropolis of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city is enjoying rapid economic growth. Dar es Salaam is now the world’s eighth fastest growing city by population, and Africa’s third fastest developing urban area. This rapid growth, however, has created in its wake a serious waste management challenge. The city generates some 4,260 tonnes of waste daily, of which only 30% is managed and dumped legally at the Pugu Kinyamwezi Dumpsite found in the outskirts of the city. The remaining 70% is either disposed of informally or illegally dumped into waterways, fields, or burned causing a variety of health, economic and social related consequences.

In 2010 and 2013, Dar es Salaam was rated the eighth and twelfth filthiest city in the world by NYC Consulting and Forbes respectively. The United Nations rates Dar es Salaam’s waste management structure as ‘well below average’ and newspapers, pop artists and films mock the city for its unsightly and smelly vistas.

Despite the horrors that Dar es Salaam’s waste management situation represents however there is great potential for ground breaking waste management developments in Dar es Salaam. One obvious solution that has not been realised is the identification, mapping out and mobilisation of Dar es Salaam’s waste pickers whom currently operate large scale recycling operations invisibly. Recycling in Dar es Salaam by waste pickers is a micro-economic activity that should be promoted and understood as Tanzania seeks to clean up its capitol.


  • Waste pickers rated the nature of their work poorly, reporting day-to-day operations as ‘exhausting’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘unhealthy’. Of fifty waste pickers interviewed, forty-three reported that they had been ‘injured or admitted to a health facility’ in the past twelve months due to their recycling operations. The most common injuries or hospital admissions were a result of contracting: airborne illness, cuts, bruises or fungal infections. No waste pickers were found to be using personal protective equipment (PPE), (i.e. gloves, mask, boots, overalls) and none had medical insurance.
  • 100% of waste pickers interviewed travelled on foot only, carrying recyclables in a long plastic bag and not making use of any type of motorized or non-motorized mode of transport. Waste pickers were found to travel an average of 10-15 kilometres over 8-12 hours a day carrying a load between 5-7 kilograms per trip. Waste pickers interviewed by the study reported a collection capacity of approximately twenty kilograms of recyclable material per day, irrespective of varying weights among different waste materials being recycled.
  • Identified waste pickers all brought their materials to informal recycling transfer stations. Informal recycling transfer stations were operated by ‘middlemen’ who had acquired a plot of land to aggregate recyclables. These ‘middlemen’ then sold their higher volumes of waste to formal domestic recycling markets that offered higher buying rates for the same waste materials. Informal recycling transfer stations were identified and visited at: Mikocheni B, Namanga, General Tyre, Biafra, Manyanya, Magomeni Morocco, Jangwani, Kaunda, Kamata, Ilala Boma, Gereji, Pugu Kinyamwezi, Kivukoni Fish Market and Clock Tower.
  • The most commonly collected and traded waste materials were hard plastics (i.e. PET/HDPE), white paper, cardboard, metal, bones and glass. No waste pickers or informal recycling transfer stations were found collecting or trading fibre plastics (i.e. LDPE), tyres, textiles or tetrapak.
  • An average of 65 waste pickers entered and exited identified informal recycling transfer stations daily to trade their waste materials while some 200-300 waste pickers entered and exited the Pugu Kinyamwezi city dumpsite daily to collect and trade waste materials. It is estimated that a combined total of 1,237 waste pickers are operational at both the fifteen identified informal recycling transfer stations and the one city dumpsite at Pugu Kinyamwezi.
  • Of fifty waste pickers interviewed an average monthly income of $108USD was reported, an earning 40% higher than the set national minimum wage in Tanzania for formal employment


  • Recycling activities by waste pickers could be substantially safer through the use of PPE. The provision of PPE could potentially result in lower medical costs/admissions by waste pickers, thus maximizing working time and profits for waste pickers. Waste pickers who wore masks for example could reduce their susceptibility to airborne sicknesses, while the use of boots, glasses and gloves could potentially reduce the occurrence of injury to waste pickers. The Government of Tanzania must do more to police the use of PPE by waste pickers as stipulated in Section 38 of the Solid Waste Management Regulations (2009) that requires waste pickers to use personal protective equipment when handling waste. As waste pickers themselves are mobile and more economically vulnerable, the government could police the use of PPE by targeting middlemen who are based full time at informal recycling transfer stations. The government might effectively ban or fine these middlemen if they agree to trade with waste pickers who are not using PPE.
  • The scale as well as the collection and transport capacity of waste pickers is now better understood. Some 1,267 waste pickers, each able to collect, move and trade approximately twenty kilograms of recyclable waste per day are estimated to exist in Dar es Salaam. If stakeholders in government, civil society or the private sector can learn how to mobilise and manage this valuable human resource some 25.34 metric tonnes of waste could potentially be recycled daily. This will hence be an outcome that would represent a recycling capacity almost six times higher than the cities total daily waste production of 4.26 metric tonnes daily. Additionally, if stakeholders can learn how to partner with the informal human resource that waste pickers represent, then they could potentially explore ways to provide other modes of motorized and non-motorized transport to waste pickers. This could potentially result in a far higher collection and trading capacity per waste picker and less exhausting nature of work too.
  • Recycling can play a more substantial role in managing Dar es Salaam’s waste problems if informal recycling transfer stations can offer more comprehensive market solutions for a wider range of waste materials. This study identified that of fifteen informal recycling transfer stations in Dar es Salaam, none purchased fibre plastics, tyres, textiles or tetrapak waste materials. Now that the trends, trading options and physical locations of informal recycling transfer stations are known, multiple stakeholders, including those in government, civil society and the private sector can seize the opportunity to form partnerships with the informal waste picking market in efforts to apply monetary value to items that are not currently being traded.
  • Waste pickers were found to have a monthly income substantially over and above the national minimum wage. If formalized, the vibrant informal sector of waste picking could thus make tax contributions and reap governmental benefits and also join worker co-operatives for improved representation within formal sectors in government, civil society and the private sector. Such an initiative, the Alliance of Waste Pickers (Tanzania) was launched in 2014. The initiative offers identification, legal representation, PPE and additional services to waste pickers who register and pay an annual subscription to the Alliance.


The informal network of waste pickers and informal recycling transfer stations in Dar es Salaam is providing a commendable environmental and waste management service to the city. This study finds however that there is great potential for the development of this informal human resource. From training opportunities and basic forms of personal protective equipment to coordination through waste picker alliances and cooperatives there are a variety of methods that waste pickers could employ to improve their working conditions and maximise their profits. Additionally, there are obvious opportunities for actors in the formal sector, such as stakeholders in government, the private sector or civil society who could benefit from the services of waste pickers through mobilising this human force for common goals. Through multi-stakeholder participation and the establishment of a bridge between the informal and formal, waste pickers and leaders, entrepreneurs and visionaries of Dar es Salaam can realise a cleaner metropolis for all.

Joshua Palfreman is an urban planning and waste management professional with over six years of experience in East Africa. In 2009, he founded WASTEDAR, an NGO providing waste management services in Tanzania. Josh currently provides technical assistance to DFID on waste management programmes run by the development arm in Kenya and has recently published works relating to waste pickers and innovative collection models tailored to developing world waste characteristics and resources; work that will feature in this year’s Fifteenth International Waste Management and Landfill Symposium in Sardinia, Italy.

  1. It is not only in Dar es Salaaam. In Morogoro, there is a waster pickers and recyclists women network of 21 groups ahich is active and already there are recycled products like pillows, matrices, kerosines and several others which benefit over 150,000 people not only in Morogoro municipality but Morogoro region as a whole. We need to spread supports for fighting incineration attiudes and make our Earth a pleasant place to live.

    Comment by Mwadhini Myanza — May 24, 2015 @ 12:50 pm