How Zambia takes out the trash – and provides a model for setting up sustainable services

by 12th Jul 2019
Charity Banda, a 23-year-old supervisor for Chipata Garbage Control Enterprise Charity Banda, a 23-year-old supervisor for Chipata Garbage Control Enterprise

How much rubbish do you generate every day? If you live in America, it’s more than 2kg every day. If you live in Australia or the UK, the average is about 1.5kg a day. In Zambia, that number is about 0.4kg (figures from World Bank). Even in Zambia, that’s a lot of rubbish to deal with.

First, take a minute to think about how much trash that is. As an American, I generate about enough trash to equal my own body weight every month!

So where does it all go?

Usually landfills, if you live in a city that has regular waste collection and decent services.

But if you live in the outskirts of Lusaka, until 2014 most of that trash just piled up in the streets.

Many countries don’t have good waste collection services, and convincing people to pay a business to take their trash away is a hard sell in poorer communities. But a CARE-led partnership project in Zambia, COMEQS, has successfully figured out a way to get 71% of trash off the streets in the neighbourhoods where it works.

How did we do it?

  • Support local businesses: COMEQS worked with local trash collection services to create new payment plans and cost-recovery models. They also worked with Keepers Zambia foundation to support training for trash collectors and community-based businesses.
  • Bundle services: The project found that people were not willing to pay a stand-alone fee for trash services, but they were willing to pay a little more in their water bills to get a trash service. By experimenting with several payment models, and hosting lots of community forums, COMEQS found a model that worked for customers and businesses.
  • Get communities involved in learning: The project focused on community-led monitoring, so that they were getting a good view into what people valued and were seeing as impacts of the project. They also worked to package learning and data into project briefs to share with municipal governments, partners, the Ministry of Water, and others to ensure that the model could be replicated.
  • Think about scale: The project tested two models of paying for water services, and once they settled on the most effective one (bundling tariffs), they worked with communities and governments to create scale up and sustainability plans so the services will keep working after the project ends.

What did we achieve?

  • More people get services: The number of people who get services to remove trash went up 16 times. That’s more than 300,000 people who benefit from cleaner neighborhoods.
  • Less trash is in the streets: 4,348 tons of trash got collected every month – 14 times more than before the project started. That means 71% of the trash is off the street in the project neighborhoods – and 14% of Lusaka’s total trash output.
  • People are more satisfied with services and are willing to pay for them: 86% of people are satisfied with services, and 94% are satisfied with the payment plan for trash services. That’s more than 2.4 times more than at the beginning of the project.
  • Businesses got stronger: Community businesses that collect trash saw their profits go up as much as 8.6 times – sometimes up to $10,950 per month – because of the increase in services and customers.
  • Fewer people are illegally dumping trash: The number of cases of illegal dumping a month was cut in half.
  • People get more regular, better paid jobs: People who work collecting trash saw their income got from $42 a month to $160 a month – nearly 4 times more. Even better, they’re also getting paid regularly, so they can count on that income every month.

Want to learn more?

Check out the mid-term evaluation.

CARE Zambia – in partnership with Peoples Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia (PPHPZ) and three Water Trusts of Chipata, Chaisa and Kanyama, the Lusaka City Council, and Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) – set up the Peri Urban Community Driven Models for Equitable Services (COMEQS) Solid Waste Project. Funded by UKaid and Comic Relief, it ran from 2014-2018 in two peri-urban settlements of Lusaka District (Chipata and Ng’ombe) and reached 304,010 people.

Emily Janoch

Emily Janoch is Senior Technical Advisor on Knowledge Management for the CARE USA Food and Nutrition Security team focusing on ways to better learn from and share practical experience on eradicating poverty through empowering women and girls. She focuses on learning from programming and using that learning to improve impact.

With four years of on-the-ground experience in West Africa, 10 years of development experience, and academic publications on community engagement and the human element in food security in Africa, Emily is especially interested in community-led development. She has experience in food security, nutrition, health, governance, and gender programming, and has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Masters' in Public Policy in International and Global Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Email: ejanoch@care.org