Structural Integration of the Informal Sector into the Municipal Solid Waste Management in Tunisia

Structural Integration of the Informal Sector into the Municipal Solid Waste Management in Tunisia
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Tunisia, a fast-growing, forward-looking North African country, is modernising its infrastructure and institutions in the context of the “Arab Spring” reforms and recent democratisation. Two of the biggest challenges in post-revolutionary Tunisia are environmental degradation and poverty. 
For this reason, the solid waste and recycling sector is receiving a lot of attention, which places the informal recyclers in the capital, Tunis, in the spotlight. 
Most recycling in Tunis is the work of hundreds of waste pickers, the so-called barbéchas. Many collect from the streets or have their own door-to-door routes; others are working in precarious conditions on unofficial dumps. The barbéchas see themselves as active entrepreneurs, doing the best they can to make the official recycling policies of the State a reality, while supporting themselves and their families. And indeed, it is estimated that informal recycling is responsible for 67% of the plastic recycling in the city, and undocumented but significant amounts of other materials such as paper, cardboard, glass, and metal. 
But the situation is not without challenges. The national producer responsibility system, called EcoLef, has offered “patents” to some buy-back points, but not to others, privileging some of the barbéchas while excluding others, and creating social and economic tension. In many parts of Tunis, the current waste management system is weak and not yet functioning reliably. In contrast, in municipalities like La Marsa, with a touristic beach area and a relatively high level of socio-economic development, policymakers are looking to upgrade their waste collection and street sweeping, and incorporate more advances forms of recycling. Informal recyclers and  entrepreneurs who have small shops are nervous that they will lose their livelihoods, and would like to be formally included in the plans of the municipalities and the government.
The Project
GIZ, working with SWEEP-Net, is supporting solid waste system modernisation by working with two municipalities in Tunis - Ettadhamen-Mnihla and La Marsa - to develop a vision and a plan for the integration of informal recyclers into the plans for improving the solid waste management system. The municipal areas see this as an opportunity to get professional advice and financial support for innovation, and the barbéchas see it as a chance to secure their livelihoods and anchor their professional recycling activities in laws and institutions.
This project is financed by the BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) through the Fund for Good Governance in the MENA Region. The project implementation is done with the support of Resources and Waste Advisory (RWA), an international consulting group together with SMART Consult. The assignment contributes to the following three specific objectives: 
-To improve the living and working conditions of the informal sector through its structural integration and partial formalisation. 
-To establish sustainable income generation and 
-To enhance efficiency of local waste management schemes, including improving and stabilising recycling performance.
Managing the interfaces between different parts of the integrated solid waste management (SWM) service chain is a key governance challenge of the sector that will contribute to a higher level of Good Governance in Tunisia. The project started in January 2014, and is due to last until June 2015.
Implementation: How is it done?
The project follows a bottom-up approach. Methodologically, the first step is to engage with the informal recyclers and mobilise them to participate in conducting a needs assessment, and in identifying key goals for integration. More than 100 barbéchas and a smaller number of local officials and NGOs are participating in local and national multi-stakeholder dialogues, capacity building in the service and in the value chain. They equally partake in the development and implementation of integration pilot projects in the two municipalities - La Marsa and Ettadhamen-Mnihla - which have been selected as focus and for piloting of approaches. The project also strives for close cooperation with many other key stakeholders in municipal solid waste management, including national and local authorities, private industries and producer responsibility organisations, the recycling industry, NGO’s, municipalities as well as educational and health institutions. 
What has been done so far?
The project started by anchoring its goals in the results of a fact finding mission. This had the goal of engaging informal recyclers, inviting them into the process, and seeing the situation with solid waste and recycling through their eyes. Such an approach was the key to gaining a solid, bottom-up understanding of the informal sector and recycling waste management in the municipalities of Greater Tunis. Perhaps the most important finding has been that there is little or no communication between barbéchas and municipalities, and a nearly complete lack of coordination in their respective contributions to local waste management. The waste pickers lack professional recognition, access to health care and social security while offering valuable SWM services. You can access the summary of the findings here. Please note that you need to be logged in as SWEEP-Net member to access the Knowledge Base.
Please click on the photos to see the full album of pictures
La Marsa and Ettadhamen-Mnihla are the two municipalities which have been selected based on different criteria for the pilot integration projects. Both are part of the Greater Tunis metropolitan area, and both have active informal sector activity.
Projects meetings and results dissemination:
The project kick-off meeting that was held on 29 of April 2014 gave room to different partners and stakeholders of the project to get to know each other, and to have a first exchange of information, opinions, and ideas. The project’s objectives, approach and framework were presented in detail by the different partners. All presentations held and the meeting outcomes can be found here
SWEEP-Net’s 4th Regional Forum in Amman, Jordan in May 2014. The session ‚Informal Sector Involvement in the Solid Waste Sector‘ was used to reflect on the project with insights and input from international experts, and experiences from the situations in Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. See the impressions of the Forum here.
The first meetings with informal sector workers were held in June 2014 in Ettadhamen Mnihla and La Marsa. These meetings resulted in the creation of two representative committees of informal sector workers, one in each municipality. The largely self-nominated committees were validated by the large number of their colleagues, who charged them with the responsibility for developing the vision of how to work with the project team to develop a first set of ideas for pilot actions. Here are some impressions from the meetings, as well as the presentation on other countries’ experiences given on the two days meetings.
Finally, in several one-to-one meetings with the project team, the municipalities as well as partners and stakeholders discussed different pilot project ideas, and contributed with their propositions for pilot actions.
A needs assessment study of the informal sector has been conducted in June and July 2014 with the purpose of understanding the needs and living conditions of the waste pickers and informal sector waste workers and mapping the needs and problems the waste pickers and informal sector waste workers face in their work.
The most important needs identified and shared by all informal sector workers are the need for access to the state health system, need of a stable income, access to credit, and occupation, a recognition of the informal recycler as an official profession. You can read the summaries of this report here.
End of August, a  brainstorming workshop has been held in Tunis. International experts on informal sector integration in SWM came together with the partners and stakeholders of the project to reflect on the ideas for the integration pilot actions, and to further develop them. Most notably, the experience of the integration of the Egyptian Informal Sector workers in Municipal Waste Management was presented to enrich the discussion in the working groups that the participants formed. The results of the reflections were, amongst others, the need to combine technical and social integration aspects in the pilot actions, and to enlarge the group of barbéchas in order to ensure social equity for the actions. You can access the workshop’s documentation in English here and in French here, and see the pictures here.
Most recently, two platform meetings at La Marsa and Ettadhamen have, for the first time, brought together representatives of the barbécha, of the municiplaities and of all stakeholders that are essentail for the realisation of the pilot actions.The details of these pilot actions, as well as the responsabilities of each partner and stakeholder were discussed and put down in two public declarations, for La Marsa and Ettadhamen respectively: Ettadhamen will make the experiment of a door-to-door collection of recyclable waste by the barbécha in the pilot zones, and will also establish a liaison office at the municipality. This will support the coordination and exchange between the barbécha and the municipality. La Marsa will equally try a door-to-door collection and will set up metal cages for recyclabe waste, that will be managed together by the municiaplity and the barbécha.
On 26 and 27 of November 2014 the pilot actions of the project were publicly launched at the level of both municipalities. One important step which was reached within the project is the formation of an association of the barbéchas in order to better organise their contribution to the pilot actions.The new logo and the establishing of their own facebook page further strengthens their recognition within the Tunisian society and their essential role in Municipal Solid Waste Management. 
Click here to get some impressions about the meeting in Ettadhamen-Mnihla and here for La Marsa.


A study trip to Cairo in the first week of December provided the representatives of the project’s essential partners with insights into the Egyptian experience of integrating the informal waste pickers. The Zabaleen, as the waste pickers in Cairo are known, have made significant progress in becoming formalised by setting up micro-entreprises. That set apart, other efforts to support the Zabaleen and integrate them without forcing them to formalise have also been made, both by the state and by non-profit organisations.
The study trip included visits to the Spirit of Youth Association, which has e.g. set up a recycling school that fuses elementary school education with recycling education, and a special E-Waste learning facility, as well as an excursion to Qualyubiya, a Governorate that, together with local NGOs, is particularly active in supporting the informal sector. The participants were also received by by H.E. the Governor in of Qualyubiya, H.E. Dr. Khaled Fahmy, Minister of Environment and H.E. Dr. Laïla Iskander, Minister for Urban Renewal and Informal Settlements. Dr. Iskander presented the governments plans to support the recycling work of the Zabaleen with complementary action for the waste that the Zabaleen cannot recycle.
Here are some impressions of the Governorate of Qualyubiya, from the meetings with the Ministers and from the visits to the NGOs and to the Zabaleen’s district, Mokattam.
The study trip to Cairo was directly followed by a transfer of the Egyptian experience to Tunisia, with the assistance of Mr. Youssef Farid from the Spirit of Youth Aossciation. He accompanied the new barbécha associations in the pilot zones to directly advise them on their efforts to efficiently organise themselves, discuss their contributions to the ongoing pilot activities with the municipalities, and set up a good communication basis with the municipalities. In turn, he provided the respective advice to the municipal staff, so that both target groups meet in their efforts to improve local governance. Have a look at the impressions here.

Throughout January 2015, our partner TAMSS, the Tunisian Association for Management and Social Stability, has realised several trainings for the barbécha in the pilot zones, covering various topics that the barbécha have expressed a specific interest in, such as protection againts health issues at work and all aspects regarding the formalisation of their business - what responsibilities as well as benefits come along with a formal buisness, and how exactly the process looks like to formalise a business in Tunisia.The training aslo covered information on how to obtain funding: Many microfinance institutions, like enda inter-arabe, offer credits of interesting size and conditions for small businesses like that from barbécha. However, a presentation of a business plan and continued demonstration of credit management are needed in order to obtain such a credit. At the trainings it came to light that the good business sense of the barbécha simply needs to be coupled with knowledge of the drawing up of these formal business plans and credit management. 









The pilot activities in la Marsa and Ettadhamen-Mn'ihla continued now with the new collections systems in February: in both municipalities, selected quarters benefitted from a regular and scheduled door-to-door collection of recyclables by the barbécha of the respective associations. These new activities were accompanied by a communication campaign to raise awareness among the citizens of the pilot districts, to ensure that both barbécha and the local households beenfit from the new arrangement. Stickers now feature on all doors of the households that benefit from regular collection service from the barbécha, and flyers detail the collections chedule for each district. 













Outside the pilot districts the project also saw a training for staff from the municipalities on the integration of informal sector workers in public service systems in general, and on the options in Tunisia more particularly. TAMSS continued their support for the project with further trainings for the barbécha of the two associations, this time regarding the acquisitions of funds and credits from donors and credit companies that offer micro-credits for small entreprises. In addition, they co-funded the acquisitioin of new clothing - vests, trousers, gloves and boots - for the barbécha from both municipalities. The barbécha's new outfit displays their association's logo on the back, to both show their shared identity and belonging to each other, and to the residents of the districts they work in. 















Mai 2015 saw the presentation of the project and its activities in the framework of the 5th SWEEP-Net Regional Forum that took place in Tunis. The presentations were complemented by additional speakers from Morocco, Egypt and Palestine, that complemented the experiences and lessons learned from the integration project. The ensuing discussions were substantially supported and developed by barbécha from the associations, that had come to participate in the sessions.


As final activities before the end of GIZ’s support to the project, the Lion’s Club Tunis supported the project with free vaccination sessions in both municipalities. Especially the barbécha from the associations came to the Saturday sessions to obtain informations about the health advantages of the basic vaccinations, and to receive their first round of treatment.

At the beginning of June, the project passed officially from GIZ in the full care of its partners: the municipalities, barbécha associations, ANGed, the supporting NGOs like TAMSS and enda, as well as all the ministries and public institutions that contributed to the project so far. A national guideline was presented at the closing event, summarizing all the results achieved so far, and outlining a proposal for the continuation of the actions, based on the lessons learnt from the activities in the last year. You can download the guideline and the road map for action.