In a move showing their determination and resilience, waste pickers at Dakar’s Mbeubeuss dumpsite, through their organization Bokk Diom, set up their new cooperative society on 20 December 2021, with support from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and WIEGO. This initiative reflects the waste pickers’ efforts to be integrated into the new waste management model put forward by the government that runs the risk of excluding them at a time when they are still enduring the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Not only has the government made plans to shut down the dumpsite where they used to work, but it has also announced its intention to privatize all waste management by making the Solid Waste Management Coordination Unit (UCG)—the unit at the ministry of local government in charge of the national solid waste management programme—a public limited company.
Change in Waste Management Policy
Senegal’s zero waste programme outlines, among other priority measures, closing the Mbeubeuss dump. It is coupled with an “urban renewal project” managed by Senegal’s Project for the Promotion of Integrated Management and Economy of Solid Waste (PROMOGED) initiative. Despite many seemingly reassuring official statements, this underestimates the crucial role played in Dakar by the waste pickers at Mbeubeuss and endangers their survival.
The government’s proposal to gradually close the dumpsite hinges on a plan it claims will restore waste pickers’ livelihoods, by offering them the opportunity to re-enter the same industry, or to receive compensation or training and financing to join a different line of work. But this plan fails to take on board informal workers’ expertise and experience—gained over time.
In Dakar, uncontrolled urbanization both exacerbates poverty and weakens the city’s waste collection and processing system. Because waste is produced daily in copious amounts and some city areas are poorly connected, the formal sector, embodied by the UCG, cannot handle the task on its own.
Exploratory research, being done as part of WIEGO’s Reducing Waste in Coastal Cities initiative, shows that greater waste management efficiency calls for a variety of actors. Through sorting and recycling, waste pickers play an essential role in society and in caring for the environment, yet they have so far received neither institutional recognition nor support in the course of their activity.
Creating the Cooperative
The association of waste pickers at the Mbeubeuss dumpsite has strategically established a cooperative society with the aims of enhancing the value of their hitherto invisible work and being considered in the national plan. The cooperative required significant efforts on the part of waste pickers, binding them to transform their traditionally individualistic practices into a collective effort.
The Cooperative Society of Solid Waste Pickers of Mbeubeuss–Bokk Diom offers all solid waste reclaiming services, from converting to marketing of reclaimed products. When it was established, the cooperative had 557 registered members.
“The cooperative allows us to catch up and to make use of all the knowledge that we have acquired by working with our technical partners—such as WIEGO—as well as our own experience in the sector, so as to push through in the decision-making forums that have an impact on our work,” explains Tabaski Ndiaye, a Bokk Diom member.
Long before the Mbeubeuss dumpsite was doomed to closure, waste pickers operating there faced challenges in accessing quality materials, which were often diverted by animal-pulled carts, street waste pickers and UCG’s collection trucks, according to an impact study conducted by WIEGO in 2021 with waste pickers.
The cooperative allows us to catch up and to make use of all the knowledge that we have acquired by working with our technical partners—such as WIEGO—as well as our own experience in the sector, so as to push through in the decision-making forums that have an impact on our work
These difficult conditions have been compounded by the arrival of new job seekers, considerably reducing waste pickers’ income. Out of an indicative sample of 76 Mbeubeuss waste pickers, 67 per cent of respondents said that accessing waste is harder now than it was in mid-2020, according to the same study.
Women Waste Pickers’ Vulnerability
Waste pickers are forced to work in extremely harsh conditions, made bearable by traditional and collective solidarity. Work remains individualized, but solidarity is shown through donations in cases of extreme poverty, the loss of a family member, or an accident, as well as in the form of loans or tutoring that is aimed at helping the most vulnerable workers advance in the occupation. Women organize “tontines” (informal arrangements to save and receive loans) with the aim of investing in other activities and thereby increasing their income.
“I was able to save money and buy a fridge, and I can now sell water and ice cream at home. This new source helps me a lot too in finding my monthly spending balance (rent, food, children’s education, power, and water)” says Ms. Ballo, a member of the cooperative with 10 years of waste-picking experience.
Women waste pickers face much greater financial hardship than their male counterparts. According to a WIEGO study published in 2020, one-third of Mbeubeuss waste pickers earn less than the basic minimum monthly wage (which is CFA52,500) and more than half of these are women. Only 20 per cent of the women earn more than CFA100,000, compared to 25 per cent of men. Women do not benefit from a pension and have little chance of climbing the social ladder because the waste collection and recovery chain lacks a professionalization policy.
I was able to save money and buy a fridge, and I can now sell water and ice cream at home. This new source helps me a lot too in finding my monthly spending balance (rent, food, children’s education, power, and water)
Often widowed and/or heading households without a steady job and/or retired, women spearheaded the establishment of the cooperative.
Their efforts will have been in vain if the PROMOGED that is being developed does not actively include them by facilitating their access to the waste market, to training, financial aid, and equipment. Only through this will the cooperative be able to help them secure an income in the long term, while strengthening their power in price negotiations with waste-buying companies.
Photo: Malika, one of Dakar’s 19 communes d’arrondissement (administrative divisions), on 10 December 2021. At the table: Mr Dieng, Deputy Coordinator at Mbeubeuss; Ms Diouf, Formal Sector Officer at the National Confederation of Senegalese Workers; Mr Harouna Niass, Chair of the Bokk Diom Association; Mr Gadiaga, Mayor of Malika; Mr Dieng, ILO Coordinator; and Mr Bakary, Advisor to the Mayor of Malika. Far left, Tabaski Ndiaye, Bokk Diom’s Deputy Treasurer, and Pape Moda Ndiaye, Bokk Diom’s Communication Manager. Credit: Maguette Diop
Informal Economy Theme
Informal Economy Topic