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This paper examines solid waste management problems in a developing city, in a work place and evaluates the current solid waste practices through involvement of workers and supervisors. Focus was on the distribution, utilization and control of waste resources inclusive of staff and transport. 

Information was gathered through wide consultation of all existing structures and key individuals in the solid waste division. This involved the supervisory staff, work team forum and team-leaders. Current work practices and areas needing attention were identified and gaps in the solid waste management system were highlighted. 

It was discovered that there was a lack of staff control and a culture of non-cooperation in the work place. Also workers were not supervised at working points. Solid waste service provision was not equally accessible to all sectors of the population.

It was concluded that the staff has low morale resulting in problems such as high rates of absenteeism, disappearance, and drunkenness during working hours. The lack of motivation and disciplinary measures is a recipe for poor staff performance. This negatively affects the solid waste service delivery. Solutions to staff related solid waste management problems require active involvement of workers. More importantly, service plans need to be continuously evaluated through local audits to pin-point areas needing attention. 


Consultative process, Involvement, Planning, Solid Waste Management, Strategy, Supervisors, Team leaders, Workers, Workplace, Work team forum. 


The fundamental goal of creating municipalities is to ensure provision of efficient, effective,  accessible and integrated services to all citizens in an equitable and sustainable manner. The greatest challenge to accomplish this enormous task is in trying to maintain the same pace of supply to the rapid changing demands and expectations of the service recipients, This is complicated by the fact that while service demands are sensitive to changes in the community settings, the available resources are often limited and static thus creating a supply gap resulting in inefficient and ineffective services. 

Despite tight resources, limited competencies and ever-increasing demand, managers at all levels have a responsibility to improves the quality of service delivery by stimulating changes and encouraging innovation. To this end, the Health and Social Services Management (HSSM) (1997) has stated that managers need to plan in order to build a shared vision, compare this with the current situation, and identify the work that has to be done to move from one to the other. Planning simply means working out of the best way of getting from where you are now to where you want to be. The success of a plan depends on how it was developed. The HSSM (1997) has recommended seven stages that should be followed in a planning process. These include:

·        Gap analysis: A technique of comparing where we are now with where we want to be. By comparing the two, it is possible to work out how big a gap exists and subsequently, work out what needs to be done to get across the gap. The mistake of most managers is to devote little time to this stage.

·        Optional appraisal: The process of establishing the criteria against which you are going to compare and judge the options. There is a four-step approach to this task. First, is to define what is meant by best way in the context of the project under-review e.g. most effective way, cheapest way, one that can be implemented quickest etc. Second, possible options of attaining the objective need to be identified. Third step involves narrowing down the range of options by eliminating those that appear unattainable. Last step is to measure each of the remaining options against the established criteria.

·        Planning for implementation: This involves making a shopping list to identify all the separate options that must be taken into consideration to successfully implement the chosen plan.

·        Sequencing activities: ranging them into the correct order to implementation. Simple logic diagram or a Gantt chart can do this.

·        Resources identification: Initially, rough estimates are made and accurate calculations are only possible when tasks and the sequence have be done.

·        Reviewing of the plan: A stage of assessing the feasibility of the plan.

·        Scheduling (Action plan.) This is the final stage before implementation that shows the key events and the date when each event is planned to transpire. This sets out details of who is to carry out which parts of the work, and when they are to do it. 

The failure of most service programmes can be attributed to the lack of proper planning accompanied by lack of monitoring and continuous evaluation to assess the effectiveness of programmes. The question that most people ask is why do we need to evaluate? There are a number of reasons for evaluation and a few of these are outlined below as per Feuerstein (1986). Programmes are evaluated to see what has been achieved; To measure progress in accordance with the objectives of the programme; to improve monitoring for better management; to identify strengths and weaknesses of the programme; to see if effort was effective i.e. what difference has the programme made?; to assess cost benefit; to collect information in order to assist planning and managing the programme activities better; to share experience with the aim of preventing others from making the similar mistakes or to encourage them to use similar methods; to improve effectiveness and to allow for better planning more in line with the needs of people at community level. 

One of the key elements of any service programme is workers which are the engine of the programme. It is the task of managers to influence workers to apply their efforts to attain organizational goals. This requires managers to know what motivates some people to work harder than others and what demotivates them to work less than they should. The HSSM (1997) has stressed that sensitivity and understanding of what lies behind behavior can help to avoid situations where people do not cooperate. 

From a solid waste management perspective, it is important to maintain team morale and a sense of social responsibility among solid waste workers for two reasons.  Firstly, in developing countries personnel turnover for solid waste collectors and street sweepers is very high. Secondly, the collection crew and drivers are entrusted with expensive and complicated equipment and if not properly trained they can destroy the equipment and injure themselves. Notwithstanding these facts, most solid waste managers have an attitude that these workers do not need skills and training (UNESCO,  1996). In the interest of better performance and customer satisfaction, municipalities need to empower their workforce by providing the necessary training (Ministry for Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development (1998). 

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), 1992) has mandated local authorities to develop sustainable development plans for their cities. Accordingly, local authorities could through consultation and consensus building, learn from citizens and from local, civic, community, business and industrial organizations and acquire the information needed for formulating the best strategies (Gilbert, et al, 1996); Tannerfeldt, 1995). This requires holistic investigation of alternative solutions that rest on sound planning, and principles of management for sustainable development. 

It should, however, be realized that people and organizations have a strong tendency to continue doing things the way they are used to doing them, in spite of their ineffectiveness to meet the required goals. To succeed in introducing new changes it is essential to inform and motivate the affected people and groups so as to obtain their cooperative and positive attitude towards the new ideas. It is also significant when creating the change, to have a person who will see to it that the conditions necessary for change are established and make the change through people. 

This paper discusses the process followed in a case study for evaluating the solid waste management services in a developing town (Umtata) involving staff (workers and supervisors) and describes the development and implementation of an alternative strategy.


Description of the case study area 

Umtata is situated on the N2 National road about 240 km from East London on the South and about 500 km from Durban on the North. It was the former capital for the Transkei homeland government, in the Eastern Cape Province, a status which was lost after 1994 the democratic elections. Umtata has served as the centre and principal market for the whole Transkei region since 1976, following the declaration of Transkei as a homeland state. This has a fast growing urban population and informal settlements. The latter have been incorporated into the municipal boundaries in the run-up to the Municipal elections in 1995 but with no extra resources.

The urban population estimate is 100 000 however the town caters for over 200 000 people including a rural population and surrounding village towns. An increased demand for basic services and resources coupled with fast growing urban population has resulted in the poor state of the environment. Hence, the need for the evaluation of the existing practices in different sections and departments so that a database can be obtained that will assist in the development and implementation of new service plans. 




Nature of the problem


Solid waste management services are controlled and offered by the solid waste division of the City Engineers’ department of the municipality. This division has experienced problems in the delivery of services since the pre-general election era (towards the end of 1993). During the transition period in 1994 and 1998 the basic delivery services had collapsed and the solid waste management services in particular were adversely affected. The continued demands for services, with nor forthcoming resource support, has rendered the current solid waste management system inadequate and inappropriate to provide reliable solid waste services to the community. The system could not keep pace with the rapid growth in social, commercial and residential developments.


Consequently, signs of inadequate solid waste collection (in the form of high rate of littering and increased amount of uncollected litter on the streets in both the city centre and suburbs) were evident. The city council found itself inundated with complaints of poor solid waste collection and disposal services. The community expressed their dissatisfaction with the service quality and a vote of no confidence in the solid waste management personnel. The community’s outcry has led to a call for the privatisation of the solid waste service unit on the grounds that there was lack of commitment accompanied with poor management and inadequate supervision of staff. The community complaints were legitimate, considering the continued deteriorating state of the environment and bad conduct of workers which was manifested by idling and drunkenness during working hours.


The city council also raised some concerns about the high expenditure on overtime, which did not correspond to the low work output. As a result of the above-mentioned concerns, the city council resolved that an urgent investigation for alternative solutions to the problem be launched, hence the initiation of this investigation. The approach and content of the investigation was purely an initiative of the author as there were no terms of reference set by the council for tracing and solving the problem in the solid waste division.



Problem identification


The main objectives of the investigation were the following:


(a)                To identify existing work structures;

(b)               To establish the total number of workers in the whole division and their allocation to different sections;

(c)                To inquire about the role of supervisors and the scope of their work and operational areas;

(d)               To examine the current management and operational arrangements;

(e)                To then identify problem areas and recommend appropriate alternative solutions.



Preliminary investigation (consultative process)


A five week initial consultative process was conducted involving the solid waste division management staff (Cleansing Officer and Cleansing Supervisors), the work team forum and the team leaders and general workers. This resulted in the identification of the working arrangements and problems encountered in the workplace. Each party was a chance to point out problem areas and suggests possible solutions. The current solid waste management system was also reviewed to pinpoint areas for improvement and helped to anticipate future solid waste management needs. During the review the following were examined:


-                      responsibilities and operational areas for the supervisory staff; the main functional areas, distribution and control of general workers in the division;

-                      the number of workers per each functional area (street cleansing, refuse collection and night soil sections and the waste disposal site)

-                      the available waste transport and disposal facilities (number of trucks in the whole division – operational and non-operational);

-                      the role of team leaders and their relationship with the supervisors, shop stewards and other workers.


This exercise assisted in identifying problems in each area and assessing the ability of the current system to handle the community’s waste needs. This baseline information was used to design an alternative work plan outlined in this paper.



Results of the practical investigation


The following problems in the workplace were identified:


Staff utilization and control


Discipline which aims at maintaining order in the workplace and ensuring a safe and productive environment was lacking. This was manifested by a high rate of absenteeism, late coming to work, idling and disappearance from work before time. This problem was exacerbated by the lack of supervision at working points coupled with lack of cooperation between the supervisors and team leaders. Staff Registers were found to be inaccurate. It was necessary to do a head count in order to obtain the total number of workers for the whole division.


Communication, which is essential for giving instructions, was hampered by the lack of cooperation between the supervisors, shop stewards and team leaders. This led to divisions, conflicts and confusion among workers. The lack of clear and concise instructions by the supervisors, whose responsibility was to direct and monitor the activities of the division adversely, affected the work performance. Moreover, accountability for work done could not be assured.


Another problem was in the hiring and management of casual labour. There was neither clear procedure nor policy for the hiring and dismissal of casual labour. The hiring was done haphazardly with much political interference. This resulted in the non-adherence to the internal Human Resources management procedures. Added to this problem was the lack of proper budgeting, uncontrolled intake and unclear working conditions for casual labour. The interference coupled with the pressure for the re-instatement of formally dismissed workers led to resentment of the supervisory staff.



Provision of solid waste services


The planning of the solid waste activities was not done in a coordinated fashion. There was neither a proper work plan nor joint planning for a common goal of the division. It was also found that there was no clearly defined objectives in place for the different sections. Instead each supervisor had a separate plan that often conflicted with that of his colleagues. This resulted in the lack prioritization and setting of targets. The absence of daily, weekly and monthly plans impeded accountability and identification of problems in the different functional areas.


It was discovered that workers were not fairly distributed throughout the service area. Some suburbs, as a result, had no access to street cleansing services. Poor records (absence of updated register) for the hiring and clearance of the skips severely hampered the effect of skip services. This was complicated by the lack of proper coding of skips for identification purposes, thus making it difficult to spot the missing ones. The existing and required number of street litter bins was unknown. Moreover, the bins were allocated in an uncoordinated manner with many found lying around in areas that required no bins. The street bin problem was compound by vandalism by vagrants and breakage during clearance from improper handling by untrained street workers.


There were complaints about the distribution of plastic bags. The complaints arose from inconsistency and the absence of records for the supply of plastic bags. Some unscrupulous workers took advantage of this situation and sold the bags for their personal gain. The lack of statistics for the service units, which could have assisted in the estimation of qunatities to be supplied to the consumers exacerbated this problem.



Waste collection and disposal


The waste collection and disposal fleet consisted of about 25 vehicles including trucks, LDV’s and compactors. Half of the fleet was not roadworthy. Frequent breakdowns of the old vehicles resulted in only five or fewer vehicles on the road for refuse collection services. This predicament hampered the smooth running of refuse collection and disposal services and left a number of workers attached to the vehicles, with no work to do.



Customer/Consumer services


Complaints received about the solid waste services were not properly recorded and timeously attended to. There was no mechanism/programme in place to inform the public/consumers about the division’s activities. This impeded communication between the consumers and the solid waste division.





In view of the identified problems a strategy was developed to correct the situation. This was introduced as a pilot study so as to accommodate adjustments where necessary.






Objectives of the proposed solid waste management strategy


The objectives were:


1)                  To ensure that the solid waste division is managed in an efficient and most cost effective manner at all times;

2)                  To ensure proper planning and efficient use of the available solid waste resources in order to improve the productivity and accountability in the workplace;

3)                  To ensure prioritization of solid waste services in the service area and equitable distribution of labour and solid waste resources;

4)                  To promote team work among workers and high discipline in the workplace;

5)                  To harmonize working conditions.



Consultative process for the draft strategy document


A draft discussion document was produced. A two months consultative process to debate the draft was arranged. The draft was first presented to the work structures (including Workers Unions) followed by the top management, all key officials in the Municipality departments and councillors who represented their constituents. Inputs from all interested and affected parties in the municipality were considered and adjustments made accordingly.



Strategy proposals


Changes in the management arrangements


Some changes in the current management arrangement were introduced. The aim was at ensuring meaningful contribution by every member of the team to the functions of the division. The changes included the reorganising staff, reallocation of operational areas and assignment of new tasks. The whole service area was divided into five operational areas and each area was allocated to a supervisor. In addition, each supervisor was assigned with the duty of coordinating some key services/functions, which are extra ordinary to his area but forms part of the divisions’ functions.



Changes in the operational arrangements


Some changes in the work arrangement were effected to improve the quality of solid waste services by maximizing the use of labour. This was done to ensure fair distribution  of labour. The following working arrangements were introduced.






CBD working arrangement


The present arrangement, which allowed three working shifts, was replaced with two 8-hour shifts, one in the morning at (06HOO – 14H00) and the other in the afternoon at (12H00 – 20H00). Each shift had a staff complement of 31 workers including a team leader. A two-hour overlap between the shifts (12H00-14H00) was allowed as a measure to improve work out.


Workers were selected from the general workers by both the supervisors and team leaders. Selection was done on merit. However, dedicated workers were given first preference but all workers were eligible for selection. Workers were rotated on a quarterly basis. This arrangement was intended to address the problem of transporting workers at night and to afford every worker an equal chance of being selected to work on shift. Workers in the new arrangement finished work at 8pm (instead of 10pm) while the public transport was still available.



Working arrangement in residential areas/suburbs and refuse collection services


Workers were proportionally deployed in all areas to provide a once a week street cleaning service. This measure was aimed at addressing the unequal access of different communities to solid services. All drivers were also required to do shift work, as is the case with street cleaning in the CBD, in order to have uniform refuse collection services. This arrangement solved the problem of overtime and hiring of casual labour. Due to transport shortage drivers were sometimes assigned other duties like assisting in the street bin clearance, tip site operation and some were relievers in other departments when not engaged in any driving or other refuse service function.



Implementation Plan


Establishment of task groups and a coordinating committee


Task groups were established for each functional component. These included transport task group, street cleaners task group, street bins task group, night soil task group, disposal site task group, skip services task group, refuse bags task group and/or recycling task group. The groups were to be increased or decreased as per needs of the divisions. The main reason for the task groups was to empower workers and encourage team building in the workplace. This was also intended to impart knowledge to the grassroots workers on planning, proper management and supervision skills and to equip them to make responsible decisions about work in their operational areas.


The task groups collectively constituted Umtata Solid Waste Task Committee. This committee’s main functions were to oversee the implementation of solid waste management strategy; to meet regularly (fortnightly) in order to monitor progress, ensure that problems are attended to timeously and to advise the management about solid waste management about solid waste management needs from time to time.


The task committee under the leadership of the solid waste divisional head was a representative structure composed of workers representative from the various functional areas, the supervisory staff and shop stewards who represented workers union interests. This was intended to facilitate planning and accountability. In addition, the supervisory staff and the divisional head were required to meet every week, to monitor progress and do weekly planning.



Implementation tasks


During the implementation phase, the following activities were carried out:


CBD area and residential areas


A survey was carried out to provide an accurate estimate of businesses to assist the planning of a trolley bin programme. Street bins and skips were coded and re-allocated according to customer and consumer needs. Records for all refuse clearances were also updated.


A household survey was conducted in all suburbs to obtain the number of service units and to help improve the refuse bag distribution. Workers to clear all existing refuse dumps launched a campaign by both machinery and physical labour.


(a)               Refuse collection and refuse disposal


In the absence of a weigh-bridge at the disposal site, drivers were required to record every full load and state the capacity of the vehicle and the collection area so as to source the waste generation area and determine waste volumes. A monitoring programme for refuse collections trucks with the collection vehicle route procedure detailing the service areas and responsibilities of drivers during refuse collection was to be designed and records were to be kept for all refuse disposed of in the disposal site.


General staff issues


A complaints register was designed. The control clerk at the solid waste depot was required to record all service complaints and immediately forward them to the responsible staff member. Supervisors were required to do daily, weekly and monthly work plan and to identify priority areas and set daily targets. High discipline was introduced coupled with motivation of workers. The hiring of casual workers was eliminated except where this was inevitable.



Promotion of the new solid waste plan


The strategy was promoted in collaboration with the municipality PRO and through press releases; community radio shows; community forums, Mayors upliftment programme and interdepartmental collaboration.



Achievements of the new solid waste management strategy


The strategy resulted in a remarkable improvement within a short space of time (three months) after implementation. To mention but a few achievements: it was possible to overcome the overtime problem through reorganisign the working arrangements. This resulted in huge savings in both monetary and time. Workers were evenly distributed throughout the service area. As a result, all residential areas received a once-a-week street cleaning service. Following the introduction of work plans and regularly reporting of progress, accountability in the workplace improved.


There was cooperation between the team leaders and the supervisors when workers were allowed to apply their knowledge and ideas in their respective working points. Disciplinary actions against offenders coupled with motivation, positively changed workers attitudes towards their work. This resulted in better work output. Relations between the solid waste division and the recipient communities improved when complaints were recorded and promptly attended to by the responsible staff members. Workers took a lead in conducting surveys to count, code and reallocate street bins, refuse skips and households to obtain the total number of household service units.






Local authorities will always be faced with problems of ensuring adequate provision of the ever increasing demands for basic community services with limited resources. This calls for the review of the available resources with special emphasis on the human component, which forms a key component of solid waste management services. Based on this case study the following conclusions were arrived at:


Firstly, the quality of solid waste service provision could be improved through active involvement of workers as (implementers) and other parties in the planning and implementation of service programmes. When people are informed, and motivated, they cooperate and show a positive attitude and support for new ideas. This is strengthened by the use of incentives or rewards in the form of praise and approval where there are no financial gains.


Secondly, involvement of the employees (workers) in the decision making makes change much easier and eliminates situations, which resulted in resentment. Workers appreciate being treated with respect and are able to apply their knowledge and ability in their work. This promotes trust and unity amongst workers and cooperation and support for the management.


Thirdly, service providers need to continually review their service programme to identify problem areas. Training personnel to ensure thorough planning, proper management and strict supervision is essential in this regard.


Lastly, municipalities could succeed by investing in its workers through participation and maximum use of its resources. This could also minimise the purchasing of expensive and sophisticated resources that are not properly utilized and maintained to achieve the desired goals. However, the unique nature of environments and conditions in different areas of operations result in unique problems that require local solutions. Hence, responsible managers should at all times conduct local audits of their service systems in order to identify shortcomings and develop appropriate interventions.






The support and encouragement of the Umtata Municipality personnel, in particular

Mr Basil Sparg, throughout the term of office to manage the Umtata Solid waste division

is acknowledged. The solid waste division staff is thanked for their willingness,

cooperation and support without which this task could not have been succcessful. The

support of Mr Chuma Mbande (FST Consultants); Mr Ray Lombard (Lombard and

Associates) and John Armstead (U.S. EPA) is highly appreciated. Nozuko (my wife) is

specially thanked for her continued support during the difficult time of this project.









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