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Uncontrolled dumping and the organizing of women waste pickers, Cotonou, Benin

Over the past two decades, a women's association has improved the recognition of the 'Gohotos' - Cotonou's well-known informal bottle recyclers. The city however continues to suffer from waste mismanagement, causing deathly explosions and lake pollution.


Cotonou suffers from a longstanding problem of uncontrolled waste disposal and resulting environmental contamination. Most of the city’s waste ends up at informal dumpsites across the city or in the waters of Lake Nokoué, the lagoon, and the sea, where the shores are now widely covered with garbage. Waste overflows have led to severe pollution and health risks, including an increase in water-borne diseases, damages to fisheries and biodiversity, and the clogging of sewers with solid waste. Especially slum areas of the city, such for example Vèdeko, have been become increasingly converted into dumpsites. New slums are informally built at some of the wastelands along the lagoon and the Ouémé River. [1][2][3] Water is contaminated by leachate from waste that has increasingly piled up over the last three decades, decomposing organic waste, and toxic and even radioactive substances and heavy metals (such as lead, mercury, iron, zinc, and copper) from electronic waste and discarded batteries. The contamination has caused the spread of illnesses and epidemics, entered the food chain, and also led to a drastic decline in fish in Lake Nokoué, where the amount of fish has almost halved within just a couple of years, making it no longer possible for many fishers to make a living. Much of the waste also stems from Dantokpa Market, one of the largest markets in West Africa and trading point for all sorts of goods. Although the dumping of waste is officially prohibited, merchants say they have nowhere else to discard the waste. [2][4]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Uncontrolled dumping and the organizing of women waste pickers, Cotonou, Benin
Location of conflict:Cotonou
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local 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
Aquaculture and fisheries
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In 2001, Oxfam launched the ‘Gestion des déchets solides ménagers (GDSM)’ project to support community-based recycling initiatives in the cities of Cotonou and Ouidah, which in two phases lasted until 2008.

Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:2016
Relevant government actors:Government of Cotonou
Government of Benin
Coordination des ONG de Gestion des Déchets solides ménagers et de l'Assainissement (COGEDA)
International and Finance Institutions International Finance Corporation (of World Bank) (IFC)
Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) from Canada
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Association de Femmes Recuperatrices du Benin (AFRB)
Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageUnknown
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers suggests to further strengthen the local waste pickers’ organizing and mentions a couple of objectives and possible further steps, including capacity-building and skill and knowledge development, the building of national and international networks in order to improve dialogue with the municipality and be better able to negotiate with the government to prioritize waste pickers in the waste management system. [11]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The waste problem in Cotonou seems to remain unsolved and poses increasing threats to the ecosystem and the population. The waste mismanagement recently tragically peaked in the 2016 landfill explosion and the ongoing waste overflow in the city's slums and water bodies.

The local organizing of the women waste pickers group and the support by Oxfam seem to have brought improvements for the community; their experience shows a pathway of how community-based recycling initiatives can be supported, but also that many challenges remain to scale-up their efforts and include them in formal waste management schemes.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Allam, Z., Jones, D. (2018): Towards a Circular Economy: A Case Study of Waste

Conversion into Housing Units in Cotonou, Benin. In: Urban Science, 2018/2, 118, 1-19.

[1] Allam, Z., Jones, D. (2018): Towards a Circular Economy: A Case Study of Waste Conversion into Housing Units in Cotonou, Benin. In: Urban Science, 2018/2, 118, 1-19.


[10] Forrest, K., Tuwizana, K. (2012): Women Waste Picker Group in Benin. WIEGO – Globalrec. Waste Picking in Africa. Volume 2.1, April 2012.

[7] VOA Afrique (2016): Explosion de Tori: le gouvernement béninois prononce les premières sanctions. 15.09.2016. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

[8] de Souza, O. (2016): Bénin: derrière l’explosion de la décharge d’Avamé, un drame de la misère. Le Monde Afrique, 15.09.2016. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

[11] Globalrec (n.d.): Association de Femmes Recuperatrices du Benin (AFRB) (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

[13] Gandonou, M. (2011): Récupération des bouteilles vides et objets recyclables: Des stagiaires canadiennes valorisent l’activité des femmes « gohotos ». L’évènement précis, 05.08.2011. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

[14] Durand, M. (2006): Rien ne se perd, tout se crée. Le Devoir, 11.06.2006. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

[15] Globalrec (n.d.): Julienne Mangni. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[2] Bocovo, I., Tchoki, W., Sagbidi, A., Hlannon, R. (2017): Cotonou : la gestion des déchets ménagers, une vraie catastrophe écologique. ORTB, Youtube, 10.08.2017. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

[3] Benin Eden TV (2018): Site de Vèdoko-Environnement : des bas-fonds transformés en décharge de déchets solides. Youtube, 09.02.2018. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

[9] africanews (2016): Benin sanctions over explosions [The morning call]. 17.09.2017. (Online, last accessed: 15.04.2020)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Max Stoisser
Last update14/05/2020
Conflict ID:5045
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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