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Waste pickers in Lusaka struggle for access to waste, Zambia

At least 500 people live from collecting recyclable waste at Chunga landfill. The city of Lusaka has repeatedly attempted to enclose the site, claiming it wanted to protect public health, but without providing alternatives for the waste picker community.


Lusaka currently generates about 1,500 tons of waste per day but is facing longstanding problems in waste management. Only about half of the waste is collected by the Lusaka City Council (LCC), while the rest is dumped at various sites, often irregularly. In most parts of the city, waste collection is outsourced to private waste companies, while recycling is left to the informal sector. Waste regularly blocks the drainage system and causes floods and water-borne diseases and the littering of plastic waste has become an increasing problem across the city [1][2][3].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Waste pickers in Lusaka struggle for access to waste, Zambia
Location of conflict:Lusaka
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Chunga landfill is located in the north of the city and Lusaka's official. It was opened as a sanitary landfill in 2006 for a planned period of 25 years, with the financial support of the Danish development agency. It has since then received all kinds of waste – about 500 tons daily - but degraded to an open-air dump due to a lack of funding and bad management. [2][3][4]

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Project area:10 ha
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:several thousand
Start of the conflict:2014
Relevant government actors:Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA)
Lusaka City Council (LCC)
International and Finance InstitutionsDanish International Development Agency (DANIDA) from Denmark - funded construction of the Chunga landfill
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Waste Recyclers Association of Zambia (WRAZ)
Integrated Community Anti-Litter Initiative (ICALI)
Care International
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Chileshe and Moonga (2017) in their study recommend that waste pickers should be included in political dialogues about waste management and receive training in order to be integrated in safer and more stable formal and semi-formal jobs, which would reduce their vulnerability. They call for providing them with opportunities for entrepreneurship, skills, competencies and jobs [3]. Similar proposals are made by the Waste Recyclers Association of Zambia, which also suggest to establish separation at source schemes in which informal recyclers could be included so that they no longer have to recycle at the dumpsite [7].

Civil society organizations such as the Integrated Community Anti-Litter Initiative have attempted to combat uncontrolled littering through awareness-raising campaigns and urged authorities to improve waste collection and impose stricter fines for littering [1].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Small attempts of waste pickers to organize have prevented their complete exclusion from the dumpsite, but the struggle for their rights and better conditions is an ongoing one. While a lack of funding seems to prevent better waste management practices in Lusaka, it is also clear that waste pickers have not received sufficient recognition for their work.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] Chileshe, B., Moonga, M. (2017): Alternatives for Dumpsite Scavenging: The Case of Waste Pickers at Lusaka’s Chunga Landfill. In: International Journal of Humanities Social Sciences and Education (IJHSSE), 4/6, 44-51.

[10] ILO (2001): Start Your Waste Collection Service. Technical Handouts, September 2001.

[1] Nkana, N. (2015): Devastating impact of litter on environment. Zambia Daily Mail, 25.01.2015. (Online, last accessed: 10.04.2020)
[click to view]

[2] Nawa, D. (2017): Where does Lusaka waste go? Zambia Daily Mail, 15.10.2017. (Online, last accessed: 10.04.2020)
[click to view]

[4] Mengo,V. (2018): Booming waste scavenging business, its perils. Zambia Daily Mail, 25.04.2018. (Online, last accessed: 10.04.2020)
[click to view]

[5] Syampeyo, Y. (2017): Chunga dump site depressing. Zambia Daily Mail, 26.03.2017. (Online, last accessed: 10.04.2020)
[click to view]

[7] Mumba, C. (2018): Living off scavenging. Zambia Daily Mail, 03.02.2018. (Online, last accessed: 10.04.2020)
[click to view]

[8] Phiri, P. (2016): PHOTOS: Trash Scavengers in Zambia Worry They’ll Be Barred From Dump Site. Global Press Journal, 11.09.2016. (Online, last accessed: 10.04.2020)
[click to view]

[11] Lusaka Times (2014): LCC erects wall fence at Chunga dumping site.
[click to view]

[12] Phiri, F., Namaiko, C., Kasonde, K. (2018): ZEMA suspends recycling of waste at Chunga dumpsite. Times of Zambia, 09.01.2018.
[click to view]

[15] Lusaka Star (2019): Zema to commence with EPR. 19.01.2019. (Online, last accessed: 10.04.2020)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update28/04/2020
Conflict ID:4721
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