1.1 Urban governments in many developing countries are facing serious
problems with the management of solid waste. Service quality is generally
poor, and costs are spiralling, often with no effective mechanisms for
improved cost recovery. Two key alternatives to the present impasse are
currently favoured: decentralized approaches and privatization.
Privatization in particular is considered a viable option, however
privatisation proposals are in many cases hurried, ill-thought out, and
often based on developed country models which assume a totally different
technical, financial and organizational framework, particularly as regards
primary collection. The fact that solutions developed for the North are
often not appropriate to contexts in the South is nowhere more true than in
the case of primary collection. Moreover, social relations characterising
primary waste collection in South Asian cities have certain particularities
and the potential social impacts of changes resulting from privatization
need to be carefully considered - this is seldom done. This research project
titled: ‘Micro-enterprise Development for Primary Collection of Solid Waste’
was proposed to identify, explore and disseminate findings about the
development of micro-enterprise for primary collection, working from a
thorough understanding of existing systems and practices and to locate those
in a broader framework of private solutions for solid waste management.
Since the privatisation of all or parts of many municipal solid waste
systems will take place in the coming years, this research project addresses
privatisation mechanisms through involving those who are amongst the poorest
and who potentially would be most disadvantaged by such changes.
1.2 The main hypothesis of the project is that moves towards privatisation
of primary solid waste collection should be designed from a thorough
understanding of the complex interactions between a wide range of existing
actors. The objective of the project is to investigate the possibilities of
and conditions necessary for upgrading current sweepers’ collection systems
(please see section 3.2 for details of sweepers’ system) into forms of
micro-enterprise. A secondary hypothesis is that involvement of existing
sweepers will improve the efficiency of primary collection. Such an approach
will help to sustain and increase sweepers income, and reduce municipal
responsibility and expenditure. Additional benefits include reducing
socio-cultural disruption, poverty and/or unemployment.
1.3 The research commenced in April, 1996 and data and information has been
collected from three cities of South Asia i.e. Colombo (in Sri Lanka), Dhaka
(in Bangladesh) and Faisalabad (in Pakistan). In addition, secondary
information was collected from some Indian cities. Three local collaborators
assist in the local data and information collection and the organization of
1.4 The preliminary literature review conducted suggests that the available
literature can be categorized into five broad categories:
- 1.4.1 Privatization: there is a large body of literature on the
privatization of infrastructure and services in order to reduce government’s
role, lower the cost and increase the efficiency of collection systems (for
example IFC 1995, Cook and Kirkpatrick, 1988, Roth, 1988 and Cointreau,
1994). Much of the literature discusses the mechanisms for privatization,
based on the experiences gained in the developed (high income) countries.
Rarely is the process of privatization evaluated on the basis of adverse
social impacts, these may indeed be worse in low income developing countries
and in the absence of social security systems. Recently, some grey
literature on privatization in developing countries, discussed holistic
approaches to privatization with a growing emphasis on integrated
approaches, social privatization and community business (for example
Klundert and Lardinois 1995, Batley, 1992).
- 1.4.2 Public Private Partnership: This category considers the process of
privatization in a comparatively broader social context. It discuses ways of
enhancing community participation in planning and operation, protecting
users rights and even considers community groups as contractors in the
delivery of infrastructure and services. Most of the literature suggest ways
of integrating private informal activities in primary collection. A greater
community share means that the small scale enterprises through informal
sectors may also become a part of the overall privatization process (For
example Gidman et al, 1995, Schubeler, 1996 and Fernandez, 1993).
- 1.4.3 Literature on Small and Micro-Enterprises comparatively more relevant to the concerns of the proposed research is from micro-economics and
management (Such as Burns and Dewhurst, 1996).
- 1.4.4 There are very few publications which discuss the role of
micro-enterprises in solid waste management (for example UMP, 1996 and
Pfammatter and Schertenleib, 1996). This body of literature has made some
useful contribution in discussing the need and benefits of supporting
micro-enterprises for solid waste recycling and collection. They mainly
discuss the formation and structure of micro-enerprises from Latin American
experience, where the concept of micro-enterprises is well accepted within
municipal institutions as compared to South Asia. However, it is not clear
whether the features identified from the Latin American experiences are also
relevant for South Asian cities. While, small scale and micro-enterprises in
solid waste recycling have been researched, for some time (for example
Furedy Christine 1989 and Furedy Christine 1993). The outputs mainly focus
on social aspects in different size and types of micro-enterprises. There is
very little literature on the policy, planning and institutional aspects to
integrate existing micro-enterprises as a privatization strategy in primary
1.5 The research carried out by WEDC aims to provide alternatives for
municipal agencies, non-government organizations and donor agencies on the
promotion of new micro-enterprises and the protection of existing
micro-enterprises for the primary collection of solid waste. This paper,
prepared for the electronic conference, is in fact the summary of the
research background and its generalized results. It discusses various
organizational forms from the existing primary collection practices and
discusses their implications for micro-enterprise development. The research
will continue until March, 1998 and the final outputs will produce options
for the promotion of micro-enterprises through privatization and
2.1 Existing systems of solid waste management in the researched cities
share many similarities in primary collection systems. Under the present
set-up the municipal corporation employs a large team of sweepers. Teams of
sweepers are designated to each councillor’s (or Ward Commissioners)
electoral ward. in different areas to perform street sweeping. The
councillors ward has been accepted as the municipal unit of operation. There
are particular lengths of streets assigned to each sweeper on which a
sweeper needs to perform street sweeping. The sweepers perform street
sweeping as their official duty and collect household waste as the private
work. The collected waste is brought to transfer points, from where it is
collected for further transportation. There is usually a field supervisor
and sanitary inspector, above each team of sweepers. The sanitary inspectors
report to the chief sanitary inspectors and ultimately this hierarchy of
solid waste management operation ends up at the level of health officer, who
may be a medical doctor. The hierarchy of this system is similar in all the
cities studied, particularly the position and mode of operation of sweepers.
However, there is a trend to make certain changes made in large cities in
South Asia towards the formation of solid waste management department. The
municipal function starts from the street sweeping and in the area where the
households feel a need for primary collection they have to make informal
agreement with the sweepers on duty or a self employed private sweeper. This
informal system works very well in the areas which are developed and
households are willing to pay a regular amount of money to sweepers for the
2.2 The primary collection in the South Asian context is the process of
waste removal from the houses and transporting it to the nearest transfer
point. This is different from the definition of primary collection in
developed countries, where the waste is often collected house to house in
vehicles and transported to the transfer stations or disposal sites. This
paper covers the activities in developing countries which are officially
sanctioned and the private (informal) work performed by sweepers because of
a number of social and economic factors. Primary collection is perhaps the
most important and complex stage in the solid waste management stream in the
South Asia due to the following reasons:
- Municipal corporations in South Asia spend a very large proportion of
their operations budget on the primary collection, typically more than 60%
of the total operational budget.
- The workforce involved in the primary collection tasks represents more
than 80% of all the municipal employees in solid waste management. In a
large city of 8 million people there may be 15000 to 20000 surviving
formally or informally in the primary collection work. Most of the staff
involved in the primary collection are on low salaries typically between US
$ 25 to 50 per month and often belong to the poor and vulnerable class of
- The workforce involved in primary collection often represent the poorest
and most vulnerable groups of the urban population. Any strategy to improve
the efficiency of the system at the cost of reducing the employment, without
any well thought alternative, may adversely effect the poorest of the poor.
Ironically, poverty reduction in low income developing countries is very
high on the international agenda.
- Primary collection is important for the health of populations since a poor
primary collection means exposed waste in the vicinity and an un-healthy
- It has been seen that most community initiatives are up to the stage of
primary collection. Community contributions to small area based
organizations, informal payments to municipal sweepers etc. exist because
the community needs a regular and reliable primary collection system and
does not like to see waste in the immediate vicinity.
2.3 The process of primary collection in low income developing countries is
different from their high income counterparts. The issues to be tackled in
order to improve primary collection are different in the two set of
countries. For example, while many low income developing countries are
struggling to set-up basic services and sorting out cost recovery
mechanisms, the high income countries are looking towards the value for
money, better management and efficiency gains in the service at a minimum cost.
3. Interim Findings
3.1 The literature review suggests that solid waste management in low income
developing countries benefit from a wide variety micro-enterprise activities
such as informal recycling, but this research found it extremely difficult
to define the enterprise and entreprenuership in the primary collection
process. It was also important to consider whose entreprenuership was in
question. Some basic definitions and identifiable criteria for
micro-entereprises are compiled below:
- A business, often family based or a co-operative, that usually employs
fewer than ten people and may operate informally (IETC, 1996)
- Micro-enterprises are generally considered as having a relatively small
share of its market, managed by its owners and often independent of outside
controls. (Burns, 1996).
- Small and micro-enterprises (including entreprenuers) buy inputs at a
fixed price but sell outputs at an uncertain price in the hope of obtaining
adequate margins. It faces three types of uncertainties: market, customer
and aspirational uncertainities. (Storey and Sykes 1996)
- A micro and small enterprise is defined as a service delivery or
production business, usually low capital intensive and consisting of an
individual or up to about 20 persons formally registered or operating
informally in an area. (UMP, 1996)
The definitions above assume a certain organizational structure and cover a
broad range of activities in the registered and non-registered sectors. This
research found it difficult to classify whether certain existing activities
were micro-enterprises and/or not. This is more difficult since there was no
official policy and registration system in the research cities on
micro-enterprise involvement in the primary collection. The following
identifiable criteria was developed to define micro-enterprise, however,
‘entreprenuership’ may change from one group to another:
- the service provider is profit motivated and so the service is charged and
non-payers may be excluded.
- the service is marketed by an individual or a small group to a small area
such as a neighbourhood, or group of houses with a total number of units not
more than 1000.
- the service provider will manage the service and invest in the
organization, keeping in view all the market risks.
- the service provider may take the triple role of labour, manager and owner
of the enterprise.
- the service provider has the major role in hiring and firing the workers,
fixing their remuneration, negotiating new contracts and sub-contracts.
3.2 Keeping in view the above criteria it was found that municipal and self
employed (private) sweepers (waste collectors) are the smallest and
fundamental unit of the primary collection enterprise in the study cities.
Within this form of micro-enterprise we have identified the following
continuum of activity:
- Municipal sweepers as wage earners - those who are earning a regular
income through permanent or temporary employment with the municipal
- Municipal sweepers doing private work - those who are earning a regular
income through permanent or temporary employment but also supplementing
their income through private waste collection and other works.
- Private sweepers as ‘survivalists’ - those without any municipal job who
and work independently. This constitutes the lowest level of
micro-enterprise - the ‘survivalist’ sector. The involvement in primary
collection is a form of micro-entreprenuership with little prospect of
growth and expansion, and is taken-up due to a failure to gain waged
employment. Thus, it is a livelihood strategy employed by those with few
alternatives in the labour market but with knowledge of and access to work
in primary collection through informal institutional linkages and a network
of reciprocity and exchange within sweepers’ communities.
- Municipal and private sweepers as emerging entreprenuers. In this case
sweepers have extensive networks of trust and reciprocity with households or
community organizations and use these to ensure exclusive access to private
work in primary collection for themselves, their family members and paid
workers (or sub-contractors) known to them through their social networks.
- Municipal supervisors as emerging entreprenuers - since they give
permission to and often manage and facilitate private work by municipal
sweepers and in return get payments.
The types (b) to (d) in the continuum were seen as the fundamental unit of
micro-entreprenuership in primary collection: the sweeper’s system from the
perspective of sweepers themselves. The entreprenuership identified is that
of private work, whether it is combined with or exclusive of paid waged
work. Further, private work by municipal and private sweepers differentiates
itself from just paid waged labour in the following way:
- the sweeper ‘markets’ himself/ herself’ to users
- the sweeper negotiates his wages, which are not fixed,
- s/he is the owner-manager-labour for the work
- s/he has full discretion to refuse the work, take new work and sub-contract
- s/he arranges the inputs to produce a service output
- there are elements of un-certainty analogous to small and micro-enterprises
- there are evidences of private-personal investment such as buying a donkey
cart for waste collection
The sweeper’s system of primary collection is basically a set of three
The clients are households who are generators of waste. They are most likely
to need their waste privately collected, when such a service is not
available through local authorities. The households made an agreement with
sweepers to collect waste against a certain agreed payment supplemented by
un-agreed tips, gifts, food etc. The sweeper also needs an informal
permission from municipal supervisor to perform private work and also agree
to pay regularly a proportion of his private earnings. The third agreement
is among fellow sweepers not to compete with each other and do not offer
services in each others territory. Sometimes, the rights to perform private
work are exchanged, bought and purchased among sweepers. However, the
sweepers system provides an essential service to the middle and high income
groups or where a market exists (for further details of sweepers system see
Ali, 1997, Beall, 1997 and Streefland, 1979). The system has the advantages
of no overhaeds so low cost, direct benefit to the poorest of poor and
flexibility. However, it has the disadvantage of not being operational where
there is no market or users could not pay (for example some low income or
remote areas). There are also problems in regulating the service, since the
users deal individually with sweepers and so could not negotiate area based
tasks, such as transporting waste out of the area, not burning the waste
etc. The entreprenuer in this type of system is clearly the sweeper.
- between sweeper and the households
- between sweepers and his supervisor (if he is a municipal sweeper)
- between sweeper and fellow sweepers
3.3 The second broad category of potential micro-enterprises emerge when
people organize themselves and collectively hire a waste collector. As
compared to individually hiring the sweeper or a family member disposing of
waste at a transfer point, this system is not very common. The study cities
have shown three types of mechanisms in this type of systems:
- 3.3.1 A group of households collectively recruiting a person for primary
collection, fixing a minimum fee and paying individually to the collector:
The system operates because of the sweepers entreprenuership on one hand,
and social obligation on the other developed because of collective effort to
ensure that the sweeper gets regular payments (including non-agreed
discretionary payments and gifts). Generally, there is an activist or a
group of activist (not registered as an NGO) supporting such initiatives.
The main advantage of this type of system over the individual hiring of
sweepers is the regulatory role of the group or activist. The function of
the so called regulatory body are to select the sweeper, introduce him/her
to the household and make sure that the households pay the regular amount to
the sweeper. Such systems have also been observed in some low income areas,
where previously no system was operating. There are a few implications for
the development of micro-enterprises for primary collection of this system:
- Such initiatives show the beginning of a positive change in community
attitudes where households decide to take initiatives rather than waiting
for the government to come and do the work, thus opening up markets for the
micro-enterprises of primary collection. Secondly, the households agree to
pay a regular amount to sweeper. This change means that the households (the
users) have accepted the service and its payments. Such a change in the
households attitudes demonstrates a shift from considering primary
collection as a government service to which there is entitlement, to a
service in which there is cost sharing involved. Sweepers are seen therefore
as private service providers and micro-entreprenuers.
- Sweepers enjoy such a system since it gives them security of work through
peer pressure and an emerging market for waste collection service in the area.
- Sweepers also like the regular and minimum payments assured by the activists.
- In general, such an arrangement is helpful in their work since the houses
are located in a single vicinity and sweepers do not have to walk to collect
waste from scattered houses.
- Since the sweepers receive the payments directly from the households, they
are still left some room for negotiation of higher rates or charges for
The Sweeper’s work could be regulated because of a small but guaranteed
market. For example ask sweeper to carry waste to a disposal place, sweeper
accepts such demand, if not the work and income from the whole group of
houses is at risk.
From the management perspective there are benefits from household’s
perspective, since households are paying directly to sweepers.
Relationships of trust are developed which ensure co-operation towards an
effective service and relatively secure livelihood.
3.3.2 The group of households collectively hiring and jointly paying the
sweeper: In this system communities or householders also take the
initiative, but here the sweeper is hired collectively and households
payments come through an activist, community group or non-government
organization rather from individual households. The organizer performs this
work on a voluntary or non-profit basis but sometimes receives costs, grants
or subsidies from external agencies. The organizers also act as a regulatory
body, and a stronger ‘regulatory’ mechanism develops, since the regulator
not only facilitates the system but also undertakes some financial controls.
This system has most of the benefits of Type (a) system, particularly in
terms of willingness to pay and acceptance of the system. All such benefits
are positive for the development of markets for the micro-enterprises.
In such systems the micro-entreprenuership from the sweepers point of view
changes to a `paid labour’ situation. The sweepers also loses the benefits
of direct negotiation with the households over regular payments; however
they still hold the opportunities of payments against additional work and
tips. The micro-entrprenuership from sweeper’s perspective is beginning to
reduce as compared to individual hiring of sweepers.
When it comes to invest in the system, the sweepers are usually reluctant to
invest since the risks are higher and ownership of the system is divided.
The community group sometimes becomes the ‘pseudo entreprenuer’,
particularly when they keep a share of the income as their ‘savings’. They
are reluctant to invest in such a system and always look towards external
sources of funding.
3.3.3 In this system an individual or group starts the collection service as
a business and takes all the risks and investments. The role of entrepreneur
clearly transfers from sweeper to comparatively larger scale contractors,
who may be employing a number of sweepers. The sweeper’s role clearly
becomes that of labour. These systems operate at a larger level, units are
bigger, generally comprising many lane and typically between 500 to 1000
collection units in the study cities. The entreprenuer keeps the operations
at a level which he could manage individually, without much external
dependency and interference. The sweeper is now a monthly salaried person
with few prospects of some extra income. It has all the basic benefits of
Type (b) systems, particularly in relation to willingness to pay, acceptance
of the system etc.
There are some important implications for micro-enterprise development in
this system. Firstly, the entreprenuer is now a small scale contractor and
not the sweeper. Secondly, as the size of the contract expands the key
difference is the sweepers become labourers and reflect some of the features
of sweepers system, in the cyclic order. Means if the size of the unit
further increases, the sweeper may start acting as in the type (a) system.
Thus a major implication for the so called large scale privatization and an
important issue whether it will bring any improvement to the system or not.
Thirdly, a contractual relationship with the municipal (official) authority
is beginning to develop and the municipal official may start to think how to
streamline and integrate such initiatives.
3.4 In all the above systems, the role of the government or municipal bodies
is negligible. Most of the above systems operate as there is no official
system for primary collection. The systems studied in the research cities
have also developed because of poverty on one hand and the need for such a
service on the other hand. Since, all these systems have developed
spontaneously and the major impetus is the extra income so they operate in
those areas where households are willing to pay. However, willingness to pay
does not only depend upon the income group but other factors as well, such
as need for the service, who is providing service and what is the role of
the household in hiring and firing the service provider.
Such systems work well as long as the size of the operation is small and
property rights (i.e. roles, responsibilities and incentives) are clearly
demarcated. As the units start multiplying or becomes larger there usually
arises the need for a more central body and that is the point where the role
of the government or municipal institutions become important. Thus a major
challenge to the micro-enterprise development is to provide an equitable and
regulated service to all income groups and at the same time preserve the
benefits of those groups (such as sweepers) who have been traditionally
benefited by providing the service.
4.1 From the five types of systems discussed above, the size of the work in
terms of number of units has come out as an important variable. The
sweepers’ entreprenuership in terms of investment, perceived security and
risk taking is quite well developed, when they are independently dealing
with households as in type (a) systems. Entreprenuership reduces when the
unit of work expands and the ownership starts to divide as we see from type
(b) to (d) systems.
4.2 Municipal and private sweepers, both male and female, were interviewed
in all the study cities. They were asked about their interest in possible
micro-enterprizes and working with NGOs or working with large scale private
contractors. It was found that most of the sweepers consider their municipal
jobs as a very secure way to earn a livelihood. In most of the cases they
worked for several years as daily wage earners and temporary sweepers in the
hope of getting a permanent appointment. The security and status of a
regular job is the main reason for their interest to continue the official
job. In addition to job security, sweepers also have opportunities to
negotiate jobs for their sons, daughters, wives or husbands, which provide
them longer term securities. The current markets for primary collection is
not developed enough to provide sustainable security to vulnerable sweepers
group. However, if sweepers are not considered as an integral part of the
future privatization strategy, there may be adverse social impacts from the
4.3 Current institutional attitudes were assessed through discussions with
senior officers and institutional trend with the changes in primary
collection. Municipal institutions responsible for solid waste management in
Colombo, Dhaka and Faisalabad have no experience in privatization or
community participation in solid waste management. The Local Government
Engineering Department, Bangladesh has involved NGOs in solid waste
management for the cities of Maymensingh and Sylhet. and our discussion with
the representatives of LGED reveals that this trend is going to increase in
future. In Colombo, because of a number of past interventions in the
housing sector, the Community Development Councils (CDCs) are in place in
most of the low income areas. Sweepers in Colombo, also mention about CDCs
and the possibility of a contract with them when they talk about enterprises
for the primary collection. In general, present institutional attitudes for
micro-enterprise development are beginning to form and their future
direction will depend upon how privatization initiatives in all these cities
are put into place and what may be the role of the existing sweepers’ system
in the future privatization initiatives.
4.4 Based on the discussion of Type (a) system, it is quite clear that
service provision for primary collection, depends upon the payments made by
households to sweepers. In small scale contractors (Type c), the same theory
applies, as long as the payments are equivalent to the charges by sweepers
(on-going rates) for such a service. The small scale contractor makes a
profit when he expands the size of the work, explore and develop new
markets, through technological interventions and utilizing social pressure
and personal influence with the municipal corporation. The small scale
contractors researched in Karachi and Dhaka, were living in the same area
where they provide collection service and both of them have good connections
with the municipal councillors in the area. Sweepers and small scale
contractors, because of their entreprenuership, demonstrate clearly their
capability to acquire service charges from households. In the primary
collection programmes initiated by NGOs, acquiring payments may be a problem
Those NGOs which successfully take the role of a facilitator and develop
entreprenuership have few problems in acquiring charges from households. Our
discussion with households revealed that at present households are not
willing to pay the municipal appointed waste contractor unless they have an
assurance about better service.
- NGOs in-capabaility to act or activate entreprenuership
- Household perception of NGOs
Based on what was discussed in the preceding sections, the following
conclusions can be drawn:
5.1 The sweepers’ system of waste collection and charging money is a common
private practice in all the study cities. This system could be classified as
a private solution initiated by the community against in-adequate solid
waste management and a solution to the absence of primary collection
systems. Overall, the sweeper system represent a significant part of the
informal economy in waste management. Future plans for the privatization of
solid waste management must understand and integrate the on-going private
practices in future strategies.
5.2 It is unlikely that with the existing operation of the municipal
corporations, the sweepers system could be transformed into the independent
micro-enterprises. The sweepers foresee a number of risks associated with
independent enterprises of primary collection. Further, municipal sweeper
get flexibility of work, security and additional income from their existing
municipal job supplemented with their private work. Thus two basic
pre-requisites for sweepers’ micro-enterprises are the opportunities for
additional income and security of work.
5.3 Micro-enterprises for primary collection have greater prospect of
development in middle and high income areas of the study cities. They could
also be developed in developed low income areas, where residents would like
to have a reliable and regular system. In fact low income areas could be
considered as emerging markets for sweepers, where incremental changes could
be made, from no system to some sort of system and then gradually improving
5.4 The prospects for micro-enterprise are greater with a better
institutional context and recognised community representation. As we have
observed in Colombo, sweepers are more interested in the formation of
micro-enterprise and propose that they could be initiated through officially
recognized Community Development Councils (CDCs).
5.5 The team of sweepers and municipal supervisors operate in the form of an
autonomous unit within the large scale municipal operation. The way through
which this arrangement works within the overall system reflects the
potential of transforming itself into a micro-enterprise. The municipal
supervisors and sweepers have a thorough understanding of the area and the
families living in it. In addition there is a great deal of social capital
in the form of mutual trust and understanding. While governments in
developing countries trying to reduce the size of the public organizations
by offering early retirements and golden handshakes to their employees,
sweepers-supervisors micro-enterprises could be a possible and viable
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- Contact information
- Dr Mansoor Ali
- Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC)
- Loughborough University
- Leics LE11 3TU
- Fax: 01509 211079
- e-mail: email@example.com