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Nigerian Waste Pickers: Unsung Heroes of Waste Management

By Ojugbele Omotunde

In environmental sustainability and waste management, Nigerian waste pickers are unsung heroes. They play a vital role in Nigeria’s efforts to address mounting waste challenges.

Every day, Nigeria generates a staggering 42 million tons of waste annually, equating to approximately 115,000 tons per day.

This massive volume of waste ends up in streets and landfills, where a dedicated corps of waste pickers diligently sifts through the debris, salvaging valuable resources for recycling and reuse.

Despite their invaluable contributions, waste pickers often operate in hazardous conditions, facing social stigma and occupational hazards.

Many lack basic protective equipment, putting them at risk of respiratory illnesses and other health issues from exposure to waste materials.

Their resilience is evident as they navigate societal barriers to make a living and contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable world.

While Nigerian authorities sometimes overlook the significance of waste pickers’ contributions, their impact on environmental sustainability must be balanced.

Through their efforts, substantial waste is diverted from landfills, reducing the strain on natural resources and promoting a circular economy.

The Waste Pickers Association of Nigeria (WEPAN) was established to manage waste pickers’ affairs, but a comprehensive approach is needed to harness their potential and fully foster a more equitable society.

Integrating waste pickers into formal waste management policies, promoting occupational health and safety, and providing capacity-building and skill development are crucial.

Empowering Nigerian waste pickers promotes environmental sustainability and yields broader societal benefits.

Recognising their contributions and offering opportunities for personal and professional growth fosters a more inclusive and equitable society.

Investing in waste pickers’ well-being can enhance public health by improving waste management practices and reducing disease transmission.

Moreover, empowering waste pickers aligns with Nigeria’s pursuit of sustainable development and resource efficiency. It is a moral imperative that transcends boundaries and underscores our collective responsibility as global citizens.

By supporting waste pickers and challenging societal stigma, we can break down barriers hindering their integration into formal waste management systems. Embracing ethical and sustainable consumption practices creates a stable environment that values waste pickers’ contributions.

As Nigeria navigates waste management complexities and aims for a circular economy, embracing the resilience and determination of waste pickers is crucial.

Collaborative efforts involving governments, civil society organisations, private sectors, and individuals are essential to address systemic challenges faced by waste pickers.

Investing in their capacity-building, providing necessary tools and resources, and fostering inclusive decision-making can unlock their full potential in driving a circular economy.

Ultimately, we create a supportive environment where their invaluable contributions are recognised and valued by championing dignity, respect, and fair compensation for waste pickers. This approach will pave the way for a sustainable, inclusive, and equitable future.


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