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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Waste management as a tool for improving livelihoods in developing countries: A review of the Informal Waste Management Sector in Abuja, Nigeria

Despite their significant contributions to the solid waste management (SWM) performance in Abuja, Nigeria, workers in the Informal Waste Management Sector (IWMS) face poor livelihood outcomes such as social stigma, low income, and poor working conditions. As the city’s SWM sector changes, the IWMS’ exclusion may result in disruptions and inefficiencies in the system’s operations and deterioration in its workers’ livelihood outcomes. Unfortunately, factors such as the perceptions held by the public and policymakers hinder the IWMS' integration into the formal waste management system. Building on inclusive waste management literature, this study highlights opportunities to enhance IWMS workers’ livelihoods within the city’s waste management system

To this end, the changes in the sector are explored through semi-structured interviews with eleven stakeholders in the government, private sector, academia and NGOs. A systems dynamics approach is applied to the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework to assess the potential impacts of the identified changes on the informal waste worker’s livelihood outcomes. Finally, the research identifies leverage points to enhance these outcomes for workers in Abuja’s IWMS, given recent developments in the city’s waste management sector.

The results indicate that although the recently adopted national policies on SWM and plastic waste will likely develop the SWM system, the lack of distinction between the IWMS and private sector may lead to losses in the informal sector’s access to waste. Additionally, the upsurge of Private Sector Recyclers (PSRs) and the uptake of digital technology in SWM service delivery may provide opportunities for IWMS engagement with the formal SWM system. Government support and strengthened human and social capital could bolster the IWMS’ bargaining power, thereby improving their livelihood outcomes from these interactions. Therefore, an intervention strategy that simultaneously strengthens the IWMS asset profile and develops a suitable policy and business environment would likely improve the livelihood outcomes of the IWMS and the sustainability of Abuja’s SWM system.

This research identifies potential actions for livelihood improvement, including providing a formal, distinct role for the IWMS and legal backing for its operations as well as a training the workers on the use of technology and other transferable skills. A combination of these interventions can be applied to mitigate the SWM system’s shortcomings in improving the IWMS’ s livelihood outcomes.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.