Circular Economy

Challenges and Opportunities

The informal and small-scale waste collection businesses play a crucial role in the waste management value chain, and their contributions should be recognized and leveraged to achieve sustainable waste management goals.

By Shiza Aslam & Suneela Ahmed | July 2023

In Karachi, Informal and Small Scale (ISS) waste collectors and recyclers play a significant role in waste management. They offer services in areas where official waste collection services are almost unavailable and provide services to nearly half of the Karachi’s population. ISS is also involved in waste recycling as they collect segregated waste and sort it, adding value along the waste chain and converting it into reusable products. This group provides employment to a large number of urban poor. Despite this, the sector is not fully recognized or integrated into the official waste management systems, and there are health and safety risks and potential interference with the official waste system.

The circular economy prioritizes sustainable resource usage and waste minimization by promoting continuous material use through improved collection rates, recycling efficiency, and repurposing to create new products, reducing the demand for new resources and minimizing waste - much of which is catered by ISS in Pakistan.

ISS provides new opportunities for people living in cities, particularly the urban poor with livelihood opportunities while sustaining the recovery and recycling of materials in the urban landscape. Altogether the embedded entrepreneurial culture in ISS activities and modes of dealing are making ground in dealing with waste management issues in underdeveloped areas (some cases even in middle-high income areas) of the city, and playing a pivotal role in achieving efficient waste collection and recycling operations. The material recovery and value addition brought in by ISS serves as critical climate mitigation action by diverting waste away from landfill, and the environment and substituting primary raw materials which otherwise contribute significant greenhouse gas emissions and subsequent global warming.

Over the last decade, the dynamics of small-scale and informal waste collection businesses have undergone a significant change. The active barter system, which previously focused on the collection of textile clothes, is now becoming marginal. Wherein, the door-to-door waste collection service providers, now dominantly Afghans, have changed their operational modes, with the traditional method of using carts and transportation being replaced by more affordable options like motorcycles, load rickshaws and Chingchis. This shift in vehicle transformation has brought about numerous benefits for waste collection businesses. With increased mobility and flexibility, these businesses have been able to provide door-to-door waste collection services, on-call services, and event-based services. The expanded business activities have resulted in higher coverage and increased revenue.

Afghan waste collectors have been offering waste collection services with a unique approach. They not only collect the waste but also separate recyclables on-site or ‘on the go.’ This approach allows them to offer lower fees to households for waste collection, especially when the waste is segregated prior to collection. The average service charges are already low, amounting to around 200 PKR, and can be reduced to 150 PKR with segregated waste. Subsequently, they are close to the source (point of generation, i.e., residents in this case), and thus are able to secure and claim quality waste i.e., relatively low contamination levels.

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