Staff Writer | Palladium - Apr 28 2020
Trash Collection Project is a Fast Company Award Finalist

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Photo Credit: Rohan Reddy

Palladium’s I4ID program (Institutions for Inclusive Development) has been selected as a finalist in Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards. The awards honour entrepreneurs and companies that are addressing grave global challenges in innovative ways, and I4ID has been recognised for tackling a root cause of urban waste and floods in Tanzania: the lack of physical addresses.

In the country’s biggest city, Dar es Salaam, informal waste collectors take rubbish away from doorsteps in handcarts and wheelbarrows. But these collectors have few options other than to fly-tip, often dumping it all into the rivers. An estimated 60 to 80 per cent of the city’s waste gets dumped in this way. Dar’s riverbanks pile high with mountains of plastic bottles, household waste, and other trash, which clogs up waterways and drainage canals, contributing to paralysing floods. During heavy rains, the plastic flushes out into the Indian Ocean.

“One of the reasons for this mess is that rubbish collection is not funded through tax revenue,” explains Sachin Gupta, I4ID Team Leader. “Residents need to pay for the full cost of collection, transportation, and disposal. Waste collectors could transfer and dispose of waste more safely, but that would increase the cost, which is difficult to recover through user fees in poorer neighbourhoods.”

So the neighbourhoods are left unserved, or the companies go bankrupt trying to serve them. The neighbourhoods, including informal unplanned settlements, often don’t have proper street names, house numbers, or addresses, making it impossible for companies to manage customer billing and track payments.

In 2019, I4ID teamed up with a local waste company, GreenWastePro, and the Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team (HOT), to test a novel solution to the problem. In collaboration with the municipality, the company piloted a system of fixing unique geo-registered tags on every house, apartment, building, and shop in their catchment area. Each tag was registered with a GPS pin in the customer database, like a digital address. The system has enabled GreenWastePro to manage and track all residents’ payments and the service they should be getting, boosting revenues by 50%, and making it financially viable to service the area.

The residents, in turn, are able to log any problems with trash collection and get them fixed quickly. For the first time, they also have traceable addresses on a digital database, which makes it easier to get a range of other services. I4ID’s next step is to build a geo-database covering Tanzania’s entire capital city, Dodoma, to streamline all municipal services and tax collection.

"The award is recognition that big, complex problems can be solved through a systems change approach with design thinking."

“There seems no better time to recognize organizations that are using their ingenuity, resources, and, in some cases, their scale to tackle society’s biggest problems,” says Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief of Fast Company. “Our journalists have uncovered some of the smartest and most inspiring projects of the year.”

For Gupta, the award is recognition that big, complex problems can be solved through a systems change approach - using design thinking, and testing and adapting street-smart innovations to make them sustainable and scalable.

“Rubbish collection doesn’t always get a lot of attention,” he says, “but the reality of living alongside waste dumps is also the reality of city flooding, plastic pollution, climate change, and the environment. This award is such a great thing for the team and our partners, who’ve committed themselves to innovate in an unfashionable sector to make the world a cleaner place for everyone”.

I4ID is a finalist in the Developing World Technology category and has received an honorable mention in the Spaces, Places, and Cities category. I4ID is implemented by Palladium in a consortium with SNV, BBC Media Action, and ODI. The project is funded with UK aid and Irish Aid.