This is a post by a young environmental engineer, Remi Jaligot. Recently I had the opportunity to read the publication “Applying value chain analysis to informal sector recycling: A case study of the Zabaleen” (Resources, Conservation and Recycling 114 (2016) 80–91), which is written by Remi Jaligota, David C. Wilson, Christopher R. Cheeseman, Berti Shaker and, Joachim Stretz. I really like the approach and as Remi is the lead author, with the help of my good friend (and mentor) Prof. David Wilson, I got in contact with him and asked him to prepare a post about the core concepts of this publication (you can download it for free until the end of September). I think this is very interesting for everyone involved with the contribution and the role of informal recyclers.

“Waste Management is a global issue. Formal and informal recycling are fundamental to address environmental, social and economic issues linked to waste management in developing countries. The term ‘value chain’ includes recycling and the commercialization of the recycled materials. Value Chain Analysis (VCA) identifies the different steps from waste collection to commercialization of secondary products; and the actors in the value chain.

The ideal situation was to study a local informal recycling sector, which already has a well-developed value chain that goes beyond simple material collection. Therefore, this research has focussed on the Zabaleen recycling community in Cairo. The Zabaleen have been providing a door-to-door waste collection service since the 1930s. Nowadays their main source of income is from sorting waste and selling the recovered dry materials and raising pigs on the organic component.

A novel methodology to apply VCA to the informal waste recycling sector was developed, providing a four-stage VCA toolkit.

Stage 1 maps the value chain. It represents the different steps and actors and allows the reader to clearly understand the connections between them. Value Chain maps were created for four different types of plastics, aluminium cans, ferrous metals and tin cans, segregated paper, mixed paper/cardboard, organics and RDF. As an example, the map shown below is for polyethylene terephthalate (PET).



Stage 2 calculates the value added by each step of the recycling process to the product. It shows which steps in the recycling process are the most and least profitable.

Stage 3 describes a set of indicators for use in value chain development to address technical and socio-economic challenges. The indicators were developed based on field studies and interviews. The indicators are in three categories: connections in the value chain, waste valorisation and enabling environment. The result of Stage 3 feeds into Stage 4.

Stage 4 has developed a novel system map to show the connections between the indicators in Stage 3 and the waste as it flows in the value chain. The system map is the final visual output which helps to target the interventions in a specific location. It provided the confidence that location specific intervention will have the greatest impact on the overall informal recycling system.


The four indicators where interventions have the greatest potential to improve the Zabaleen value chain are: source segregation to improve the quality of the recyclable entering into the value chain; optimising access to waste and improving both access to finance and technical knowledge.


The new four-stage VCA toolkit provides a robust and powerful methodology to analyse and improve complex informal recycling system.”


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