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Marginalized informal recycling and the start of waste-to-energy in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan

Waste pickers in Lahore are the pillar of all recycling work, but continue to face obstacles and exclusion. Waste is handed over to the private sector and the province of Punjab is moving forward to install six new incinerators with Chinese investment.


Rapid urbanization and changing consumption patterns have recently led to a steady increase of waste volumes in Lahore [1][2]. According to official numbers, the capital of Punjab generates now about 6,000 tons of waste per day [3], although new figures even estimate the amount to about 8,500 tons [4][5]. As it seems, the political responses to resulting waste overflows and environmental degradation have so far been driven by supposed technological fixes and private-sector solutions rather than taken into consideration the valuable contributions of the large informal recycling sector.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Marginalized informal recycling and the start of waste-to-energy in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
State or province:Punjab
Location of conflict:Lahore
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
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

Lakhodair sanitary landfill was opened in 2016 to become the principal dumping area for the city of Lahore (which has about 11 million inhabitants) for at least the ten following years. About one billion rupees (~ US$ 6 million) were spent on construction in an area of 52 hectares. The landfill currently receives an estimated 5,000 tons of waste per day, which is most of Lahore’s waste, but already in 2020 was reported to reach its capacities. [3][14]

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Project area:52 ha
Level of Investment for the conflictive project220,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:2012
Company names or state enterprises:Lahore Xingzhong Renewable Energy Company Limited from Pakistan - Develops waste-to-energy plant in Lahore
Albayrak from Turkey - Waste collector
Ozpak from Turkey - Waste collector
Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) from Pakistan - Waste management company of Lahore
Relevant government actors:City District Government of Lahore (CDGL)
Government of Punjab
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Aabroo Educational Welfare Organisation
Formation, Awareness and Community Empowerment Society (FACES)
WWF Pakistan
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Proposal and development of alternatives:Researchers from “Urban Unit” and a local university have recommended to set-up more decentralized and better manage waste disposal systems across the city, instead of over-accumulating all garbage in one single landfill, and to forest the area around Lakhodair landfill. Civil society groups also proposed the building of recycling centers, a plan that has not yet been implemented. The WWF Pakistan has called for better recycling as a way to protect biodiversity and ecosystems. [3][15]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:As the case of Lahore shows, numerous waste management problems continue, for example related to insufficient waste segregation, illegal dumping, illicit medical waste recycling, and mismanagement at landfills. While the city is far from “reduce, reuse, recycle, recovery” principles, waste pickers – who have so-far been the core pillar in the country’s recycling – continue to face harassment, exploitation and bad working conditions. The recent shift towards waste-to-energy comes with a lot of risks and is driven by interests of the private sector and foreign investment interests, through which the informal recycling sector is likely to be worse off. Without any political support to ensure waste pickers continued access to recyclable waste, their source of livelihood could soon go up in flames.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Ashraf, U., Hameed, I., Chaudhary, M. (2016): Solid waste management practices under public and private sector in Lahore, Pakistan. In: Bulleting of Environmental Studies, October 2016, Vol. 1, Issues 4, pp. 98-105.

[2] Kamran, A.; Chaudry, M.; Batool, S. (2015): Role of the Informal Sector in Recycling Waste in Eastern Lahore. In: Polish Journal of Environmental Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 537-543.

[12] Asim, M., Batool, S., Chaudry, M. (2012): Scavengers and their role in the recycling of waste in Southwestern Lahore. In: Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 58, 152-162.

[13a] Mahmood, K. (2017): Ranking criteria for assessment of municipal solid waste dumping sites. In: Archives of Environmental Protection, 43/1, pp. 95.105.

[13a] Mahmood, K. (2017): Ranking criteria for assessment of municipal solid waste dumping sites. Archives of Environmental Protection, 43/1, pp. 95.105.

[3] Asif, R. (2019). Tackling Lahore’s garbage crisis. The Express Tribune, 26.10.2019. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[6] Randhawa, S. (2019): LWMC inaction turns Lahore into ‘city of garbage’. Daily Times, 19.05.2019. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[7] Hasnain, K. (2019): Mounting complaints about Lahore’s garbage problem. DAWN, 30.08.2019. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[9] (2018): Lahore’s only official dump site is being turned into a public park. 21.03.2018. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[15] Randhawa, S. (2018): City’s waste continues to be dumped without segregation. Pakistan Today, 19.08.2018. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[19] Pakistan Today (2019): In a first, Punjab govt to establish waste to energy projects. 22.01.2019. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[20] The Express Tribune (2018): Pakistan's first waste-to-energy plant gets licence. 16.07.2018. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[21] Hamza, A. (2018): Chinese companies joint venture to build 40MW waste-to-energy plant in Lahore. Daily Times, 23.06.2018. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

[13b] Raza, A. (2017): Few takers for landfill site. The News on Sunday, 07.05.2017. (Online, last accessed 05.04.2020)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update20/04/2020
Conflict ID:5019
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