Collection of scrap metals, old car parts, old rubber sandals and boots, car tyres, bottles, tin cans, etc. is carried out all over Ethiopia. The merchandises are brought to Addis Ababa and sold to small dealers and wholesalers who in turn sell them to the recyclers and artisans in Addis Ababa and to merchants from the different regions of the country.


In Addis Ababa, there are various types of collectors that provide recyclable materials to wholesalers and small dealers:





The term qorale is short for "Korkoro yaleh, or, in English, "Have you gotten any scrap metal?" which is what the young boys shout when going round for collection. In fact, they collect all sorts of old re-usable articles, not only scrap metal. The trend probably started with collecting scrap metals, which was the first material available until plastic and other materials were introduced.


The qorales are an important body of the urban society in conserving the environment from pollution. Even if their main objective is making money and living by it, they are indirectly involved in conserving the environment. They also provide the society with affordable used articles at a lower price and thereby show the public that some of the used articles should not be discarded instead recycled and reused.


However, the society as a whole has no clear understanding about the work of the qorales. No recognition is given to their contribution in to the society. Therefore, the society has to change its attitude towards the Qorales and their job and the government also has to give a serious attention to these people.





The research on the itinerant waste buyers is entirely the result of primary data. No relevant secondary sources could be found on the subject. The study is based on focus group discussions with 15 itinerant waste buyers, dealers and merchants. These discussions were held after 2:00 p.m. This is the time qorales are back from the different areas where they collect recyclable articles, have sold them to the wholesalers or dealers, and start entertaining themselves.


The target area of the study was Merkato-Korkoro Terra where the qorales as well as the wholesalers and dealers can be found in large number. This was found to be the most convenient place to approach the qorales, who do not like to be talked to while they are walking around. In general, qorales are very suspicious towards strangers asking them questions about their job and background, because they have fear of government control, taxation, eviction and finally loss of their jobs.


Merkato-Korkoro Terra is the main disposal area of the recyclable solid waste of the city. There, the whole group of qorales feels more unfettered and safer than any other places. They are available in large number and have time for discussion. At the beginning they were aggressive or indifferent, but after the second and third visit, they were most willing to discuss even their most personal issues.


2. Background of qorales


The majority of the qorales are young men from the Guraghe ethnic group. The Guraghes occupy the southern range of the central Ethiopia plateau, and speak Guraghigna, a Semitic language. The Guraghes are known to share their activities between the countryside and the city. Turn by turn, the male members of the extended family come and work in Addis Ababa, while the others remain in the countryside and take care of their land. After a year or two, the process is reversed. Those who were in town go back to the countryside and those who were working on the land come to town.


Even when working in town, Guraghe people visit their families or relatives in their homeland once or twice in the year. If visiting is difficult to them, they send them some money. They are constantly in touch with on-going affairs and home relatives of their homeland.


Young Guraghe boys are traditionally expected to leave their homes and search of work and education in the city. Many come to Addis Ababa with high expectations, believing "money can just be picked up from the streets". but life in Addis Ababa What they find is completely different. Their dream is out of the reality.


The age of the qorales ranges from 15 to 50 years, with most of them being between 18 and 25 years old. Most Guraghe boys work as qorale for 4-5 years. If they do not find a better job or manage to become a merchant, they return to their homeland to work on their farms. A few are still in the qorale business 16-20 years after they have started. They never "had a chance" to change, and they never wanted to go back to the land.



Collecting the used articles from different areas and bringing them to Merkato-Korkoro Tera is the work of young men. Women are not participating in this collection activity. This is because of the lack of security, qorales always running the risk of being attacked and robbed.



All qorales have some education. They have left school after completing any grade up to 12th after the 6th grade. There is a small number of qorales who are university drop outs or who are taking university extension classes.


On-the-job training

The newcomers are trained by qorales who are one the job. The newcomers might be brothers, friends, relatives, neighbours, and/or at least from the same ethnic group of the qorales. Whoever wants to become a qorale is accepted, without pre-requisite or discrimination. That also holds true for the ex-soldiers who joined the qorale community.


The newcomer gets a training on how to shout, where and when to shout, what and how to buy, how to transport the collected articles, etc. After a few days of training, the newcomer becomes an independent qorale who does no longer need the assistance of his colleagues on how to work.



Most of the qorales live in a daily rented houses paying 0.50 cents to 1.00 birr or monthly rented houses by forming small group, 3 or more in number. Few of them live with their relatives or parents.

Nowadays the number of qorales is multiplying. Increasing unemployment and poverty existing in the country is the main reason for this. Especially some of the ex-soldiers from the previous regime are also engaged in this activity. The work does not need large amount of money to start and immediately provides a little money to cover basic needs such as food and shelter. The work of qorales do not need special qualification, therefore, anybody without special skill or qualification join it. This is the reason why we see a huge number of people engaged in this activity.


3. Organisation of the Work


Work schedule

Carrying their sacks on their shoulders, they leave their centre between 7 and 8 in the morning and disperse to different areas of Addis Ababa. Some of them travel to nearby cities. They leave early in the morning, when the air is still fresh they themselves have plenty of energy, and organise their working day so that they will not have to carry the goods when it has become to hot. After work, in the afternoon, most of them meet at some place for entertainment, chatting together, chewing khat, playing games (especially the younger ones). Some attend church programmes and attend school or university.



Usually qorales take buses to go the areas where they will be collecting materials, but to come back to Merkato with the collected articles they use a taxi. They pay 0.20-0.50 for the bus ride in the morning, depending on the distance, and spend 1.75-2.75 Birr on the way back, out of which 0.75 is for their own fare, and the remaining for the goods they are bringing back.


Working conditions

Because of the nature of the work their cloth is full of dirt and grease, therefore, when they use public transport the other people are uncomfortable with them. Therefore, after collection, they put off their working cloth at one corner of the road and pack it in the same sack that holds their collected articles.


Qorales work throughout the year, but business slows down in the rainy season, and working conditions worsen because o flack of protective clothing.


Initial fund

Before they leave for collection, the qorales go to the wholesalers in the Merkato and take some money for buying the used articles they will collect from the households. The wholesalers give them a certain amount of money, totalling 20 Birr or more, depending on how much the wholesaler knows about the honesty of the qorale.


A qorale who has been working for several years for a specific wholesaler develops probity and a trust-base relationship is built between the qorale and the wholesaler. This gives the qorale a chance of receiving relatively more money from the wholesaler. A qorale who has a good relationship with a wholesaler will get up to 100 Birr. In addition to the money that qorales receive from the wholesalers, they may add their own money for buying articles. If a qorale finds expensive but profitable article from his client, then his colleagues coming from the same place he comes from, cooperate by lending him money.



A qorale may use the money he received from a wholesaler for the business for other purposes. Under any circumstances, if a qorale uses the money he received from one wholesaler for other purposes, it becomes difficult to work with other wholesalers. Then, he may stay without work for days or weeks until he gets back the money and continue his work. The wholesaler who lost his money will inform the other wholesalers, and stop the qorale from receiving money. However, if the qorale is very active and other wholesalers know him that he makes good business, then he might have a chance of receiving money. This is one of the informal controlling methods of the group.

4. Areas mostly visited by qorales

 A qorale walks all round in Addis Ababa for collection. There are no specific areas where he has to go at a specific time. He decides every time whenever he wants to go somewhere. He uses his judgement to estimate where he has the best chances to get the material that is much in the demand on the market. From discussions he has had the previous afternoon, during entertainment time with his friends, he knows which articles are on demand.


Three major factors are determinant in his choice of place:

  1. Availability of articles fetching a good price on the market.
  2. Security.
  3. Familiarity with his customers.


Most of all, however, qorales prefer to go to the areas where they have been going for several times. This is because they feel safe in the places where they have become familiar. If they knows the place, the possibility of being attacked by groups of robbers is minimum. For a qorale, being robbed by village gangs is his main daily worry. So safe arrival to his end is usually seen as a good luck.


When a qorale finds used articles on a specific place, he returns to the same place on the next eight days. He also makes appointments with his clients to come on another day and buy articles from them.


When a qorale repeatedly goes to a specific place, then the people from that area know him well and their suspicion on the qorale may decrease. Areas with high-income group of people, hotels and restaurants prefer to sell their used articles to qorales they see repeatedly. These people hoard their used articles over a long period, and sell once at specific time to the qorale they know well.


There are some specific areas where qorales would like to go more often, and others they prefer to avoid.


Akaki, Kaliti and Saris, important industrial areas in Addis Ababa, are the places preferred by the qorales because in these areas they can find more scrap metals. Scrap metals fetch a higher price than any other used item.


They do not go to places such as Repi, the landfill where Addis Ababaís waste is dumped. Other waste pickers are working there and have a tight control over the place. No one is allowed to pick waste from the Repi landfill, also known as "Kore" or "Koshey", unless s/he belongs to the group. The areas known as Kerra, Bulgaria and Cherkos are also avoided by qorales. These places are known to be places where groups of hooligans attack qorales and rob them from their belongings.

There is no difference on the availability of saleable used articles among the people of low-income areas and high-income areas. According to the qorales, they may get a big amount of used articles from the low-income areas or a small amount from the high-income areas.


5. Regional Collections

 The business of recovering used articles is not restricted to Addis Ababa. There is a continuous exchange between the capital city and all the other regions of Ethiopia. Qorales go and collect used articles from the regions and bring them to the capital city. Merchants come from the regions to Addis Ababa to purchase cheap recycled items which they will retail in the regions.


The recovery of used articles was especially flourishing during the Derg regime. In those days, the lack of foreign exchange made it difficult to acquire raw material from abroad, and the only way for some factories was to recycle waste material.


The need to collect waste material for the industries is less urgent nowadays, since access to foreign exchange and import of raw material is no longer a problem. However, the recovery and recycling is still good business, and used articles continue to be collected from the regions and brought to the capital city.


Regional collections are done in two ways:

  1. There are qorales who travel to regional cities and do the collection work. It could be in a group or a single person renting a house from private house owners and may stay up to 6 months or more in a particular town. Articles are collected the same way they are collected in Addis Ababa and brought back, by bus to be sold out.
  2. Qorales travel to any part of the country, except their area of origin, as they would feel uncomfortable to be seen by their relatives carrying a sack on their shoulders and shouting "Korkoro yaleh".

  3. In some areas there are agents who are permanently residing in regional cities and do the collection work. These permanent residents collect the articles and bring them to Addis Ababa or send the articles with a driver or somebody who is working as an agent.


Only experienced qorales travel to the regions. They need to have a good relation with a wholesaler, who will advance them a large amount of money (in thousands) and they need to have contacts in the regional towns they will stay in and which can be anywhere in Ethiopia.


6. Articles collected

Qorales collect all sorts of used articles, without distinction, as long as they know the articles have a monetary value and can be sold in the Merkato. Items purchased by qorales include bottles, tin cans, parts of old cars, rubber and plastic shoes, papers and magazines, scrap metals, flasks, rags, etc. On average qorales collect 15 kg of materials a day. These are collected from households and more rarely from organizations, factories or industries. Households are the best sources of used articles for individual qorales. Most organizations and industries sell their used articles by auction, therefore these places are not visited by the qorales. Only wholesalers, who are in a better economic position than the qorales or the dealers, participate in auctions because they have enough money for making bids.



Origin of articles purchased by qorales




Hotels & restaurants


Industries & enterprises

Tin can










Glass jars





Perfume and nail polish containers





Plastic container















Rubber shoe





Scrap metal





Old clothes





Old iron sheets





Old car parts






Of all collectable materials listed, old car parts, scrap metals and bottles are the most frequently wanted by small dealers and wholesalers.


The demand for recovered material is highly fluctuating. It is affected by changes in the business and packaging and by different regulations issued to protect consumers. The case of perfumery flask can be used as an example. Until some time ago, nail polish and perfume flasks were in high demand, both by the informal sector producing forged nail polish, and by the perfumery enterprises. Qorales used to pay up to 0.45 Birr for one flask. Once the Government started exercising control on the perfumery products, factories had to look for containers of higher standard and no longer stopped buying recovered containers. Likewise, because of the risks of being caught, the production of forged nail polish decreased enormously, resulting in a shrinking market for the flasks. Once they are no longer purchased by qorales, such items become waste and add to the amount of waste to be disposed of by the households.


7. Resale of the collected articles


All collected materials are taken straight away to dealers and wholesalers in Merkato, since no qorale owns a place of his own to stock collected materials. Collected materials are not processed - like by washing, cutting into pieces, etc. - before selling.


The wholesalers usually receive bottles, tin cans, plastic containers, scrap metals, old iron sheets etc. Articles that are not taken by the wholesalers such as parts of old cars, rubber shoes, clothes and others are sold to the dealers.


Qorales would like to provide the articles directly to the recyclers and fetch a better price than what they are paid by the wholesalers and dealers, but they lack the space to store the articles. Being on the road the whole morning, they are not in a position to sit around, chat and gather information on which products are currently in high demand. As they come from the countryside, they only have a limited knowledge of Addis Ababa's "who is who" where they are located, and how they are to be approached.

 The demand for recovered items is quite volatile. It is affected by the amount of goods coming in from the regions, by the employment situation and whether new people are looking for a way to make a living, new regulations and legislations issued by the Government, developments in the regions. Knowledge of the market therefore needs a constant alertness. Because they are away the whole morning, the qorales are not in a position to acquire that knowledge.

 The qorale first sells the articles he collected to the wholesalers, usually the one from whom he borrowed money in the morning and with whom he wants to build up a good relationship. If the usual wholesaler is not interested in the articles the qorale has to offer, the latter will look for someone else.

 The price at which the articles are sold is a fixed market price, practised by all the wholesalers in the Merkato, although it does vary according to the demand. Therefore, there is no point for a qorale to look for a wholesaler who will offer him a better price for the articles he collected. In place of the bargaining power for the price of his articles, the qorale but instead he can build a strong bondage with the wholesaler of his choice.


8. Dealers

Small dealers purchase articles in restricted amounts and immediately re-sell them to recyclers. More than anyone else, they are the ones who know the small recyclers in the informal sector. They know which item are in demand on an individual basis at a specific time, either because they have visited an asked them, of because the operator came and told him what he was looking for.


Dealers are typically "Addis Ababa boys". They were born in the city and know all its places as well as the ins and outs of the market.


9. Wholesalers

Wholesalers are receivers of articles from qorales or dealers. Most of them are older than the qorales or dealers and have their own families. Usually they are men, but there are a few women among them, more especially in the old iron sheets business.


Most wholesalers are of Guraghe origin and are in the business from father to son or to nephew. This is also how women became wholesalers: they took over the business from their parents or a close relative. Some wholesalers used to work as qorales and have been so successful they could switch to wholesaling. This is the big "luck" qorales dream of. It comes if a qorale finds a large amount of goods fetching a high price on the market.


Economically, the wholesalers are in a better position than the qorales and the small dealers. They are relatively permanent and have places to store the articles they buy from the qorales. This enables them to sell the articles whenever the market is convenient for them. They sell in bulk and on a much larger scale than the small dealers. Their clients are factories or merchants from the regions.


These days, however, the wholesalers are in a big problem because they cannot pay the new rent imposed on them as a result of the latest land holding policy. In most cases, they built their shops themselves on a piece of land they secured from the government on cheap terms under the former regime. During the past two regimes, they used to pay a nominal rent of 2 birr/month, regardless of the size of the plot on which the shop is built. Presently, rents range from 105 to 1200 Birr per month, an amount which wholesalers are unable to pay. As a consequence, their houses are demolished and wholesalers are evicted from their places. There is a place completely cleared up by the government, because of this problem. Other wholesalers sell their items on the road along their previous shops. Stocks of articles are piled up in the open air. These wholesalers employ guards to protect their articles from robbers and thieves. A few wholesalers who could not sell their stock of accumulated materials started working as qorales in order to collect materials that are in demand.


More shops of wholesalers will be demolished in the near future. Protests against the new rental policy were forwarded from this group to relevant government offices for many times, but to no avail.




If they are not hired by dealers or wholesalers where they will only get the difference from the initial money that is handed at the start of the day, they get up to 10 Birr on average.

 Th next table shows that qorales makes varying profits, ranging from 0 to more than 100%, depending on the item.


List and cost price range for all items purchased by qorales


Purchasing price range/unit (Birr)

Price range/unit paid by wholesalers & dealers (Birr)

Tin can

0.15 - 0.25/piece

0.25 - 0.50/piece


0.25 - 2.00/piece

0.25 - 2.00/piece

Glass jars

0.50 - 1.50/piece

1.25 - 2.00/piece

Perfume and nail polish containers

0.10 - 0.40/piece

0.15 - 0.50/piece

Plastic container

0.75 - 10.00/piece

1.00 - 12.00/piece


0.75 - 1.50/kg

1.00 - 1.75/kg


0.50 - 1.50/piece and size

0.60 - 2.00/piece

Rubber or plastic shoe

0.50 - 1.50/piece

1.50 - 1.75/kg

Scrap metal

No unit price

0.50 - 15.00/kg

Old clothes

2.00 - 10.00/type

3.00 - 10.00/type

Old iron sheets

12.00 - 20.00/piece

15.00 - 25.00/piece

Old car parts

10.00 - 13.00/type

10.00 - 20.00/type


The work is done based on chance and hope. If they get some money today, they may work less or not for the next three days so that they use all the money they are out of money.

There is no constant price for specific article. Like the other businesses, the price of the used articles changes from time to time. An article that is expensive at one time becomes cheap at the other time or becomes worthless. Changes in the model of production regularly affects the price of used articles. When the soft drink factory stops producing one brand and replaces with a new one, or when a plastic crates are being replaced by mica crates, any of the old models are no longer in demand. The first loosers are the wholesalers, but qorales are also affected.


The increased availability at low cost of manufactured products has also affected the business for the qorales since, once their price makes them affordable, customers prefer to buy colourful materials.


Qorales estimated they make the following monthly expenses :


Cost of living of qorales



(in Birr)






Only if they have some surplus income





Sent home for family



The relationship between qorales, dealers and wholesalers


Qorales usually work for wholesalers. They would like to work for their own, but because they do not have room for storing the collected articles, they instead work for wholesalers, usually on a daily employment basis.


The existence of the wholesaler is a determinant factor for the life of the qorales.

There is no a binding rule for him to work for a specific wholesaler. One of the reasons why a qorale work for a wholesaler is money. Since the wholesalers are in a better economic position than the qorale or the dealer, they offer some money to the qorales.

The wholesalers also need the qorales who bring them saleable used articles. Unless the qorales bring them the articles, they are unable to run their business.


The dealers are equally important for the qorales and the vice versa. Some articles which are ignored by the wholesalers are taken by dealers. Articles such as shoes, clothes, scrap metals, parts of old cars etc usually are bought by dealers and sold directly to the recyclers.


The problems of space affecting the wholesaler directly affect the qorales also have worried about this problem, because they are the immediate people who suffer from it.

10. Buyers of the used articles

 Whoever looks for whatever finds there.

Example: Bottles by soft drink factories,

Used plastic shoes by plastic shoe factory etc.


11. Social Organizations