Last November, 345 “Zika Warriors” took to the streets of Jamaica to fight the spread of the Zika virus in 30 communities. These local residents trained as vector control aides to prevent Zika primarily by improving waste management in their communities, including cleaning up public spaces and destroying mosquito breeding sites. In addition, they distributed bed nets to pregnant households.
As we observe World Health Day today, we look back with great thanks to the significant reduction in Zika in these communities. Anecdotal evidence suggested that the Zika Warriors significantly stemmed the spread of the virus, especially compared to the 2014 Chikungunya outbreak that led Jamaica to declare a state of emergency.
As a first responder to the pandemic, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) designed this program within an existing waste management program of the World Bank’s Integrated Community Development Project, directly benefitting more than 140,000 citizens.
solid waste management
These statistics highlight the need to address the problem as global citizens. But if you look at it closer, the incentives for action are indeed very local, making cities—as the centers of consumption in the world—important game changers with strong reasons to take action.
The World Bank recently hosted five individuals representing organizations and . Their varied approaches reveal incentive models that effectively lead to strategic behavior change.
You cannot imagine my surprise while reading a BusinessWeek article last July about an innovative way to transform India’s litter into partial substitute for bitumen in asphalt to build roads!
Well, this transformative method arguably holds larger potential than the “garbage to music” recycling approach I recently wrote about in my first post about creative ways to manage waste. “Garbage to roads” was pioneered by an Indian chemist called Vasudevan, and it could help not only in getting rid of tons of plastic litter- thick acrylics and bottles, grocery bags and wrappers-- but in building roads at the same time. It’s a win-win solution for all.
I started working in solid waste management only a few months before I heard the story of the children’s orchestra in Paraguay, called the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura.
These talented and driven children, all from poor families, had the creativity to construct musical instruments from recycled materials and use them to play classical music (check out the video “Landfill Harmonic”). The passion of these musicians, inspired by their unique social, educational and artistic influences – as well as constraints – and their ability to create art from limited resources strengthened my commitment to the work we do in solid waste management.
Management of organic waste is a major dilemma for developing countries. It generates unpleasant odors and helps rats, flies, bugs and mosquitoes multiply and spread diseases. As it decomposes, organic waste generates methane, a gas that contributes significantly to global warming. Last year Daniel Hoornweg, Perinaz Bhada-Tata and Chris Kennedy predicted in an article in the magazine Nature that the global rate of solid waste generation is expected to triple by 2100. This is bad news because if the investment for solid waste management in developing countries remains as low as it is today, the world is at risk of irreversible environmental deterioration.
Last month, I paid a visit to the Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill located 18 km south of Jenin City in the northern West Bank. I was impressed with the status of solid waste management in this part of the West Bank and inspired by how various local governments were cooperating despite the volatile political environment.
The Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill near Jenin in the West Bank (Photo by Farouk Banna)
When I arrived in Jenin on the morning of January 29, the head of the Joint Service Council (JSC) and his staff welcomed me and took me up to the education center located atop the building. This room provides an extraordinary aerial view of the landfill.
Urbanization is the most powerful force shaping the planet today. This can be good news as urbanization is the best bet we have to meet our global poverty reduction targets. Cities generate our wealth, our culture, and our innovation. This is also bad news since cities generate the lion’s share of the world’s GHG emissions, and cities are responsible for most of the planet’s current decline in biodiversity. Cities also generate solid waste; lots of it and the amount is growing fast.
‘Peak waste’ – that point in time when all the waste from all the cities finally plateaus around the world, and then slowly starts to decline, is not on track to happen this century. Estimates are that it will peak at three-times today’s current waste generation rate. Peak waste is an excellent proxy for humanity’s cumulative global environmental impact; therefore we are on track to triple today’s overall global environmental impact. Our ‘assault on the planet’ will start to subside on the other side of peak waste. Therefore we must move peak waste forward and reduce its intensity when it finally does arrive.