May 9th, 2014

The giant of Africa’s giant waste problem

5 minute read

by Wale Bakare


Solid waste management is the most pressing environmental challenge faced by urban and rural areas of Nigeria, a country with a population exceeding 170 million and one of the largest producers of solid waste in Africa. Despite a host of policies and regulations, solid waste management in the country is assuming alarming proportions with each passing day.

Nigeria generates around 3.2 million tons of solid waste annually, of which only 20–30% is collected. Reckless disposal of municipal solid waste has led to the blockage of sewers and drainage networks, and the choking of water bodies. Most of the waste is generated by households along with local industries, artisans and traders, often littering the immediate surroundings. Improper collection and disposal of municipal waste is leading to an environmental catastrophe as the country currently lacks adequate budgetary provisions for the implementation of integrated waste management programmes across the states.

According to the United Nations Habitat Watch, the populations of Africa’s slum-ridden cities will more than triple over the next 40 years, a phenomenon which could spell disaster unless urgent actions are initiated. Out of the 36 states and federal capital in Nigeria, only a few have shown the considerable level of resolve needed to take proactive steps, while the rest have merely paid lip services to issues of waste management indicating a huge lack of interest in the development of the waste sector.


Dire states

Lagos State, the commercial hub of Nigeria, is the second fastest growing city in Africa and seventh in the world. The latest reports estimate its population to be more than 21 million making it the largest city in Africa. With a daily per capita waste generation of 0.5 kg, the city produces more than 10,000 tons of urban waste every day. Despite being a model for other states in the country, municipal waste management is a big challenge for the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) to manage alone, hence the need to engage the services of private waste firms and other franchisees to reduce the burden of waste collection and disposal.

One fundamental issue is the delayed collection of household solid waste. In some cases, the wastes are left uncollected for a week or more; consequently, waste bins overflow and litter the surroundings. When waste is collected, improper waste disposal and lack of reliable transport infrastructure means that it is soon dispersed to other localities. Another unwelcome practice is to overload collection trucks with five to six tons of waste to reduce the number of trips; this has necessitated environmental activists to prevail upon the relevant legislature to conform to modern waste transportation standards.



Doing the donkey work: African waste collection practices need to be modernised. Photo by Roman Bonnefoy, via Wikimedia Commons.


Away from Lagos State, Oyo is an ancient town in Nigeria with an estimated population of six million people. Here, solid waste is regulated by the Oyo State Solid Waste Management Authority (OYOWMA). Unlike Lagos State, Oyo State does not have a proper waste management scheme that cuts across the nooks and crannies of the state. Such arrangements are in place only in Ibadan, the capital city, while people from other towns like Ogbomoso and Iseyin resort to waste burning. In cases where the waste generator feels that the amount being charged by the waste franchisee is beyond their means, they dump the waste along flood paths thus compounding the waste predicament.

States such as Kano and Rivers, also with their fair share of the population, suffers a similar fate in controlling and managing solid waste. Generally speaking, population increase in Nigeria has led to an unprecedented growth in the economy but has had a devastating effect on the environment as more waste is generated due to the need for housing, manufacturing and a boost in trade volume.


Ni-cheerier prospects?

As a matter of urgency, the federal government needs to instigate a regulatory framework that will be attractive for private sector investors in waste collection, recycling and reuse. The Environmental Health Officer’s Registration Council of Nigeria would do well to intensify its efforts in monitoring and enforcing sanitation laws as well as regulating the activities of the franchisees regarding sustainable practices.

Taking the advocacy further on waste management, to avoid littering the environment some manufacturing companies (e.g. those in the chemical and paint industries) have introduced a recall process that will reward individuals who return empty/used plastic containers. This cash incentive has been proven over time to validate the waste to wealth program embarked upon by the manufacturing companies. It is also expected that the government will build more composting and recycling plants in addition to those in the states of Ekiti and Kano to ensure good, sustainable waste management.

The waste management situation in Nigeria currently requires concerted effort to sensitise the general public to the need for proper disposal of solid waste. Officials need to be better trained in professionalism and service delivery, and should ensure that all states within the country have access to quality waste managers who are within reach and can advise on the best approach to managing waste before collection.


Wale Bakare


Wale Bakare SML


We are grateful to Bioenergyconsult and Bailiff Africa for the opportunity to reproduce this article, versions of which have previously appeared here and here.

Bioenergyconsult is an organisation that aims to raise awareness of waste issues, improve waste management and further the use of biomass for energy in under-privileged communities globally. Bailiff Africa is a leading publisher of environmental / green content pertaining to Africa.


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Vandell Stewart
Vandell Stewart

I’ve been an environmental waste manager in the United States for roughly 25 years and I also teach environmental science. African countries (especially the laregr ones such as Nigeria) will have to invest serious time, energy, effort and education into solving this problem. Use the many resources of your sons and daughters in Africa and around the globe. Being African American, I would love to play a role in delivering a modern waste management system to the motherland. Let us get to work SERIOUSLY and IMMEDIATELY to rectify this situation!