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close this bookCommunity Participation - Solid Waste Management in Low-Income Housing Projects: The Scope for Community Participation (HABITAT, 1989, 54 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGuidelines for the instructor
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. Waste management in human settlements
View the documentII. Waste collection
View the documentIII. Storage of waste
View the documentIV. Waste disposal-methods
View the documentV. Resource recovery: handling and dealing in waste
Open this folder and view contentsVI. Recycling examples
View the documentGlossary
View the documentBibliography
Open this folder and view contentsAnnexes


The urbanization of developing countries and the growth of spontaneous settlements are taking place on such a scale that national and local governments cannot cope with the demand for decent shelter conditions. At the city level, this is most noticeable in the sphere of infrastructure. Services often fail to reach new low-income areas, while existing municipal services rapidly deteriorate.

A municipal service that seems to fail most strikingly is waste collection. This is likely to be seen as a problem of inadequate means of transport, as tar as the municipality is concerned. This training module aims at showing that a reorganization of waste-management procedures, including community participation, is more likely to provide durable solutions than purely technical approaches.

Many municipalities see solid-waste management as a problem of equipment: how to obtain and maintain technologically advanced compactor trucks, hydraulic-compressor containers, transportable containers and transport vehicles. In developing countries, with insufficient technical services, spare parts and maintenance budgets, when such technically sophisticated equipment breaks down the entire system fails.

Waste-management systems which include community participation and do not require high technology and inappropriate machinery might prove to be sustainable at the community level, since income-generating waste-management systems can be maintained by low-income communities. This manual will show the possible scope of community participation in solid-waste management.

Considerations of community participation In waste management

Waste disposal

Waste disposal is often seen as simply removing waste from human settlements. Nowadays, waste is also seen as a resource that should benefit the community: resource recovery (reuse or recycling) is a basic element in waste management. This factor plays an important role in the planning of waste-disposal systems. The main benefit that waste management will yield is a clean environment, but other benefits can be:

· The production of fertilizer through composting;
· The recovery of energy through biogas or incineration;
· Recycling of the various materials in waste;
· Land reclamation.

Since the largest cost factors in waste disposal are transport and collection, reduction of the quantities, through early separation and recycling, is a very effective means for achieving savings. Reductions in the volume of waste and decentralized processing are some of the approaches which could be followed and from which an organized community could benefit.

Community participation in waste disposal can be a catalyst in community-development work, because it gives residents a feeling of self-esteem. It can lead to the possibility of income generation through recycling which will also reduce the quantities of material that have to be transported for disposal.

Solid-waste disposal follows several steps:

The waste-production cycle is inside the house, market, industry etc. Easy separation can be made at the source where the waste is not yet mixed (bottles, paper, food remains, plastics, metals etc.).

The primary-collection cycle is at the community level where wastes of the same sort are collected.

The secondary-collection cycle is at city level where dumping at a communal depot or recycling takes place.

Community-managed waste disposal consists of the following elements:

1. Primary waste collection (neighbourhood - wide collection and storage);

2. A waste-management system, administering and financing the primary collection system;

3. Planned co-operation with municipal service agencies, to ensure a reliable transfer of waste from the primary to the secondary collection cycle;

4. The development of recycling activities within the community;

5. The development of income-generation activities, through processing and upgrading of waste material and development of local industries.


A university in Europe held a competition to design the best waste-management system. Most entries were highly complicated machines to separate the waste and sort out the different materials in order to recycle them by type. One entrant, however, presented a system with five different small containers for paper, plastics, glass, metals and organic materials, respectively. Apparently, all other systems were based on mixing everything first, compacting it and, then, trying to separate it again. The system with the five containers proved to be the least expensive but required community organization.

Community participation in the field of waste disposal does not come easily, and much consciousness-raising is required in order to create a feeling of responsibility. It is not uncommon for slum-dwellers to keep their own houses very clean and, yet, throw all waste on the nearest street. In some countries, there is a tradition of caring for areas around and between dwellings, whilst, in others, this is not the case. Such general attitudes affect the willingness to participate locally.

Low-income versus high-income

The amount of waste produced per inhabitant in high-income areas is a multiple of the amount of waste produced by low-income households. Yet, it can be observed that, while it seems possible to keep high-income areas clean, low-income areas remain unclean. There are two factors which contribute to this common situation:

· Registered households in high-income areas pay sewerage taxes, waste-collection taxes and, possibly, land taxes, all sources for financing municipal services. Households in low-income areas are often not registered and do not pay these taxes.

· Senior governmental officials, diplomats and politicians and their acquaintances tend to inform and pressurize the municipality when, in their residential areas, excessive waste accumulation occurs. In low-income areas, communities often do not have the influence.

Community participation is essential in the choice of methods, in co-operation, in storage and in decisions about separation and recovery of resources, as will be explained later.


Forms of In primary waste-collection, community participation in waste management may be distinguished in two main forms:

1. The efforts of the community to collect and transport waste to a few central places, where the municipal refuse-collection service will remove it for final disposal elsewhere;

2. The efforts of the community to extract certain materials from the waste for commercial or manufacturing purposes (recycling).

The first type requires co-operation from the whole community and special tasks for a few individuals. The choice of collection system influences the transporting of household waste to collection points. Every individual household is involved in this. The second type also requires separate storage of certain items (glass, paper and kitchen waste), so that these materials can be recycled with the least possible soiling. Here, some people may be paid for their work in sorting, recycling and remanufacturing.

In the secondary waste-collection cycle, large tasks, such as the emptying of communal containers and transporting waste to depots, are often given to paid workers. Management is vital for planning and co-ordinating community efforts. In the absence of efficient municipal services, this means considerable work by the residents which should be rewarded.

Most recycling activities in developing countries are organized outside the community on a commercial basis. In some countries, recycling is highly organized and very profitable; in others, it hardly exists. The establishment of efficient recycling and remanufacturing options in low-income areas provides a firm basis for developing community-based waste-disposal management.


1. How is waste-collection organized at present in your town?

(a) Is it a centralized or decentralized system?
(b) What type of equipment is used?
(c) What are the major shortcomings of the present system?

2. What waste materials are at present recycled in your town?