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nwaloziri1_EZEQUIEL BECERRAAFPGetty Images_sorting rubbish Ezequiel Becerra/AFP/Getty Images

The Monetization of Garbage

Lagos, Nigeria, has made some progress in tackling its enormous waste problem, but much more can, and must, be done. As other cities have found, establishing the proper incentives, including financial inducements, would encourage residents of poorer neighborhoods, in particular, to participate in the clean-up of the city.

BEREA, KENTUCKY – As a child growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, in the late 1990s, I remember women roaming through my community and chanting in Yoruba, “onigo de o! Anra bata rubber ati ayo t’on jo.” This translates as “The bottle peddler is here! We buy rubber sandals and leaky (aluminum) pots.” Some families would separate their waste, because they could give some of it to these women for cash.

There are far fewer of these peddlers nowadays, perhaps because bottling companies are no longer recycling the bottles that the women gather. But a large-scale effort along these lines to monetize waste in Lagos, if properly coordinated and funded, could potentially have a huge impact on the city’s garbage problem. And what works in Lagos could hold lessons for many other cities – and not only in the developing world.

In Lagos, action is urgently needed. The city has a population of about 22 million and, as the World Bank has highlighted, is heavily polluted. Especially in poorer areas, residents who can’t afford to pay for waste collection come out in the dead of night to dump their garbage on the streets or in the water. As a result, the city’s slums are littered with paper, household waste, and plastics.

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