Formalizing Tanzania's informal system of waste collection and recycling offers a new solution, leaving traditional disposal methods to waste away in the dumpsites.

In recent years, Dar es Salaam has twice been ranked among the world's top-15 dirtiest cities. On average, 700,000 tons of waste are produced annually in Tanzania's former capital.
Considering New York City residents dispose of 12,000 tons per day, or 4.38 million tons annually, this figure pales in comparison. However, Dar es Salaam lacks the disposal facilities of other capital cities, and, with a population set to more than double by the year 2050, waste management will become one of the government's more critical challenges. Dar es Salaam administrators moved main dumpsites four times in the past 20 years, as the city's borders have expanded to accommodate new arrivals. Still, a look into the heart of the city could offer a more effective solution.
An estimated 1,300 “waste pickers” scour the streets on a daily basis, collecting rubbish for recycling. The average waste picker works between eight and 12 hours per day, covering 10-15km, and handles between five and seven kg per trip.
Collected waste is traded at informal recycling transfer stations, for around TZS100 (USD0.04) per kilo. Most collected waste is hard plastic, but pickers mix this with paper, cardboard, metal, bones, and glass. Waste is then sold to companies that trade in waste, usually for around TZS200 (USD0.09) per kilo.
The ILO estimates that 15-20 million people worldwide earn their livings from recycling waste. With every ton of refuse generating 12 jobs daily, waste is a vital source of job creation for many countries with high unemployment rates.
Furthermore, the World Bank estimates that 20-50% of municipal budgets globally are spent on waste management. If informal waste pickers in Dar es Salaam are given the necessary tools to optimize their trade, they would have the capacity to recycle more than 25.34 tons per day, well over the city's current waste generation of 4.26 tons per day.
With successful management and mobilization, waste pickers could contribute considerably to the fight against environmental degradation, as well as improve public health and sanitation. Moreover, with successful formalization, the waste market could contribute to the economies of developing countries.
In Tanzania, the average waste picker's earnings hover around USD108 per month, 40% higher than the country's formal monthly minimum wage. Bringing these workers into the formal economy would lead to fiscal contributions to the government's balance sheet, and waste pickers would gain access to benefits like social security and union membership.
However, more needs to be done to harness workers' capacity through optimizing mutually beneficial results. Most of the city's waste pickers use non-motorized transport, making their journeys slow and cumbersome. Providing transport and proper equipment could increase efficiency. Also, there is opportunity to expand the types of materials recycled; currently, waste transfer stations do not deal in textiles, fiber plastics, or tires.
Matthew Haden, from Dar es Salaam-based company The Recycler, revealed the company's plans to scale up informal waste collection, stating, “By scaling the informal collectors, allowing them to collect more material and more efficiently and by giving them the necessary tools so they are able to add value to different material, we will be able to make a big difference to the recycling proposition in Tanzania.” For example, “Currently, the value of collecting paper waste is too low to make business sense. However, if we were to increase the value by enabling processing in country, it could be bought at a higher price.”
Reducing access to waste due to privatization is one of the biggest threats to waste pickers' livelihoods. Also, exploitation by “middle men,” intermediaries who trade waste from informal channels to export companies, is rife. A supportive policy environment, therefore, could further improve the lives of thousands of informal workers.

Interventions that help formalize the industry have the potential for massive positive impact on emerging cities like Dar es Salaam.