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Community involvement in municipal solid waste management

Roland Schertenleib and Werner Meyer *

Inadequate coverage of the population to be served and operational inefficiencies are some of the major problems observed in most municipal solid waste management (SWM) schemes in economically less developed countries. The urban poor in high-density areas usually make up the largest part of the unserved population. A lack of adequate institutional arrangements and low financial and technical sustainability of the existing collection schemes are the main reasons for this situation.

In general, the waste generated by the rapidly expanding cities grows beyond the collection capacity of most municipal administrations since not even the operation costs of the collection services can be covered by adequate fees. In addition, many urban poor live in unplanned and unauthorized areas (often outside the municipal boundaries) and are, therefore, not eligible for municipal services. Consequently, the solid waste disposal practices of the individual households in unserved high-density areas are mostly detrimental to the living environment of the entire city (e.g. burning, indiscriminate dumping into watercourses and/or surface water drains).

This situation can probably be improved significantly if the inhabitants of low-income communities start assuming the responsibility of handling their own garbage and setting up a system appropriate to their own economic situation. This can take different forms; i.e., the community or neighborhood either operates its own primary collection scheme by using for instance unemployed and/or retired people from within or outside of the community, and/or the population will have to partly carry out the work itself.

Different types

In other words, those who cannot afford to pay in cash will still be provided with SWM services by paying in kind. Such types of community-based waste collection schemes, often combined with sorting and recycling activities, have been tried out over the past few years in different urban areas in Asia, Latin America and Africa. This article reports on the preliminary results of a review of about So SWM schemes in which the beneficiaries are or have been reportedly involved to some degree.
The review of the solid waste management (SWM) schemes with reportedly some kind of community involvement has revealed that there is a wide range of interpretations and usage of the terms "community participation" and "community-based" respectively. (For the purpose of this article, the term "community" is used when denoting the community of beneficiaries.) At one end of the scale there are schemes which only marginally involve the local population; i.e., the waste is brought to a collection point predetermined by the municipality, as it is the case in most low-income and/or high density urban areas. In a number of schemes, the community has already been involved to a greater extent, e.g. in site selection and/or type of collection points.

However, very few examples of real "community-based" waste collection schemes were found that involve the community not only in the operation but also in the management of the system.

The review has also shown that any community involvement is or has been basically limited to primary waste collection and is, thereby, the first step in a sequence of different activities in a SWM scheme. During primary collection, the waste is collected from the households and brought to the nearest communal collection point. Some kind of primary collection scheme is needed in areas where conventional collection vehicles cannot reach households due to poor accessibility, and/or in low-income areas, where the population cannot afford door-to-door collection by trucks. The waste is then picked up from the communal collection points by a secondary collection system and transported to the landfill.

Secondary collection, transport of primary collected waste to the dumping site, and operation of the landfill is usually beyond the scope and capability of the community itself.

In addition, the population in the community is usually most interested and motivated to remove the waste from its immediate environment, however, it usually shows very little interest in an environmentally sound final disposal of its waste.

Primary collection schemes

After reviewing existing and/or tried out primary collection schemes with some kind of community involvement, it seemed useful to divide them into different categories. The categorization is based on:
- Motivation in the setting up and operation of a primary collection scheme: Primary collection schemes have been basically set up for three different reasons: (i) mainly to improve the condition of the environment, (ii) create jobs, or (iii) improve resource recovery from solid waste. Although all of these components play a certain role in all primary collection schemes, it is obvious that initially one main motive force triggered off the course of action. The community-based primary collection schemes common in urban areas in Indonesia have, for instance, been set up primarily to improve the cleanliness of the neighborhood and the environmental health.

However, the main motive for introducing such a scheme in a district of Douala (Cameroon) was to create jobs for the unemployed young. The well known system operated by the "Zabaleen" (ethnic group specialized in recycling) in Cairo is a good example for resource recovery.

However, the main motive for their waste collection schemes is recycling. It is important to note that it is the main motive which determines how a scheme is set up what its limits are. Primary waste collection schemes, which are generally motivated by resource recovery (e.g. Cairo), will serve only high and middle-income areas but will neglect low-income neighborhoods due to the low content of recycables in the waste of the poor.

- Level of community involvement during initiation and operation of the scheme: As mentioned earlier, primary collection schemes vary considerably in the degree of community involvement. In most schemes, the involvement of the local population is restricted to facilitating SWM operation and reducing costs. Only few schemes can be considered "community based" in the sense that the beneficiaries are involved in all stages; i.e., from the setting up to the operation of the primary collection scheme.

- Type(s) of organization(s) involved in setting up, operating, and managing the scheme: When looking at the organizations engaged in the set-up, operation and management of primary waste collection systems, one can differentiate between (1) the ones based and mainly active within the collection area ("local/internal" organizations), and (2) the ones based and active mainly outside the collection area ("external" organizations).

The "local" organizations can be classified as (i) informal self help groups (e.g. occasional neighborhood committees, youth and women groups, clan meetings), (ii) formal local non government organizations (NGOs) such as associations, cooperatives, social clubs, religious organizations, political parties, and (iii) formal government organizations (GOB) such as the lowest administrative units (e.g. ward, block, cell, panchayat, baranguay).

The "external" organizations are (i) national or international NGOs, (ii) multilateral and bilateral external support agencies (ESAs), (iii) higher level GOs (e.g. the Solid Waste Department, the City Council, the Metropolitan Authority).

Therefore, the primary collection schemes with community involvement can be divided into the following categories according to the degree of community involvement and type of organization involved:

Category Ia: Scheme initiated and managed either by "local" NGOs, neighborhood or community organization(s);

Category Ib: Scheme initiated by "external" organization(s) in view of early handing over of management to "local" organization(s);

Category Ic: Scheme initiated and managed by "external" organization(s), possibly with "local" NGOs, with clear active involvement in decision-making by the local community;

Category II: Scheme managed by local organization(s) and operated by co-operative(s);

Category III: Scheme initiated, managed and operated by "local" GOs;

Category IVa: Planning of scheme with active community involvement; management and operation by "external" GOs; and

Category IVb: Planning, operation and management of scheme by "external" GOs with partial operational participation of the population.

Main findings

The following findings and conclusions can be drawn from the review of roughly 50 solid waste management (SWM) schemes in which the beneficiaries are or have been reportedly involved to some degree:

- Municipal SWM remains the responsibility of municipal authorities and is usually managed and operated by their own services. Any type of organized community involvement is rather an exception and mainly concentrates on primary collection and communal street cleansing activities community involvement in other municipal SWM components such as secondary collection, transportation, waste treatment or final disposal, is usually beyond the scope of a community.

- Two main reasons lead to primary collection schemes which can suitably be managed by the community of beneficiaries: Poor or lack of road access to households for conventional waste collection trucks (e.g. in irregular high-density communities with narrow lanes), and/or the lack of political will by the municipal government and local politicians to serve unauthorized low-income settlements.

- As regards primary collection, there is a wide range of different types of community involvement. They range from schemes where people's participation is restricted to bringing their waste to a determined point to schemes with different degrees of community control.

- Improved cleanliness within the local public area of an unserved low-income community has usually been the driving force for setting up a community-based primary collection scheme.

- A prerequisite for the successful operation of a community-based collection scheme is a reliably functioning interface on the technical as well as on the institutional level between the primary (communal) and the secondary (municipal) collection scheme. Uncollected waste from communal collection points by the municipal collection system often lowers the community's motivation and results in the collapse of primary collection schemes.

- Existing traditions and experiences in community-based approaches in other communal affairs can significantly facilitate community-based approaches in primary collection. In communities without such experiences, external assistance in community development may significantly enhance community management.

- A key aspect of primary waste collection is financial viability. Community-based primary collection schemes generally depend on individual cost-recovering financing mechanism. In mixed income areas, cross subsidies are usually required for full coverage (including the poorest households) of a community-based collection scheme.

- In urban areas where the middle and high income areas are served by a door to door collection system operated and financed by the municipality, individual households in low income areas and/or in areas with poor road access are usually not willing to pay an "additional" fee for a community-based primary collection scheme. Fees, instead of general taxes should, therefore, cover the costs of primary SW collection services.


The International References Centre for Waste Disposal studied 50 waste management projects in Asia, Latin America and Africa, classifying them according to the level of participation of the beneficiaries. Among other things, the classification draws distinctions between participation of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foreign NGOs, and involvement of cooperatives and local foreign government agencies.


L'International References Centre for Waste Disposal a proc ne de et a un classement, en fonction de la participation des personnes concern, de 50 projets de gestion des dets en Asie, en Amque latine et en Afrique. Le classement fait une distinction, entre autres, selon qu'il s'agit de la participation d'organisations non gouvernementales locales ou angs, de l'association de cooptives et de services gouvernementaux locaux et angers.


El International References Centre for Waste Disposal ha analizado y catalogado 50 proyectos de gestie desechos en Asia, Latinoamca y Africa, seg diferente participacie los usufructuarios. La catalogac ie ha realizado, entre otros, seg participacie organizaciones no gubernamentales, tanto locales como extranjeras, seg inclusie cooperativas, asomo de autoridades gubern- amentales local es y extranjeras.