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The power of data in driving sustainable development… Is solid waste the low hanging fruit?

John Morton's picture
Photo by Lisa Yao / World Bank


The data revolution is upon us and the benefits, including improving the efficiency of corporations, spurring entrepreneurship, improving public services, improving coordination, and building profitable partnerships, are becoming more evident.

For public services, the potential gains are impressive. Globally in the electricity sector, an estimated $340 – 580 billion of economic value can be captured by providing more and better data to consumers to improve energy efficiency, and to operators for streamlining project management and the operation of their facilities. Even larger gains ($720 – 920 billion) could be captured in the transport sector.

Exploring the benefits of open data in the solid waste sector has been slower than for other services, however, if you take a closer look, the benefits may be substantial. Solid waste services have a lot to gain – with low service coverage and a lack of modernization in most parts of the world; solid waste services can be costly, representing 10 – 50% of municipal budgets in many developing countries; and it is directly dependent on many actors. To be effective, citizens, institutions, and private companies need to be informed and involved.

[Download: What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management]

Some examples of what making better quality data available on solid waste services could do include: 

The best laid plans… have data. With average waste collection rates of 41% and 68% for low- and lower middle-income countries, respectively, and less than 10% of the corresponding waste disposed in a sanitary manner, many municipalities in the world lack solid waste services. The introduction of modern solid waste systems in these areas represents a monumental organizational change and logistical challenge. It necessitates the introduction of collection services for, among others, each household, and every commercial building and supermarket; the coordination with, informing, and incentivizing all the actors in recycling; the operation of transport services; and the operation of effective disposal or treatment options for the daily, relentless influx of waste. Systematically collecting quality data will help municipalities to undertake strategic planning, integrate service planning into urban planning, and make the necessary decisions that allow them to establish a solid waste system that is properly dimensioned and cost-effective. 

Time to rethink how to harness the private sector to improve sustainable solid waste management

John Morton's picture
Photo credit: Gigira / Shutterstock.


The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious set of targets that aim to support a comprehensive vision of sustainable development that embraces economic, social, and environmental dimensions. Solid waste plays an important role in several of these goals, including providing sanitation for all, making cities and human settlements sustainable, encouraging sustainable consumption, and reducing climate change.
 
In the planning undertaken by Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) to help achieve these goals, one glaring fact stood out: the financial resources needed are not only expected to be substantial, in the “trillions” of dollars annually, but they far outweigh the current “billions” of dollars annually in financial flows from development institutions. Considering this information, it was agreed at the Hamburg G20 Summit that a new approach would be needed to unlock, leverage, and catalyze other sources of financing, including private sector resources.
 
The approach would more systematically prioritize private financing solutions when they are feasible. That is, private solutions that are already working would be considered as a first option; followed by encouraging private investment by reducing policy and regulatory gaps and risks that currently discourage participation; and, finally, as a last option, when private solutions cannot fulfill all the demands of the sector, public resources could be strategically used.
 
Considering the successes and challenges of private sector involvement in solid waste, it is an opportune moment to begin to ask: what are the key issues that need to be addressed to better leverage the private sector to provide sustainable solid waste management solutions?
 
[Read: World Bank Brief on Solid Waste Management]
 
Have solid waste laws done enough?  Regulations and policies have progressed significantly, with many countries establishing new solid waste laws that replace decades-old sanitation or public nuisance legislation. Have these reforms gone far enough to specifically encourage the private sector?  Are there functional mechanisms for cost recovery, and is there sufficient flexibility for the private sector to pursue a variety of contractual and financing arrangements? Are the laws truly motivating investment into modern facilities by providing enforceable requirements and standards for the establishment of landfills, closing dumpsites, and establishing recycling facilities? Are the financing schemes predominantly focused on public financing, or do they cater to what the private sector financing needs? It is worth a second look at how these laws respond to these and other issues, and learning from those countries that have taken them on.

Transforming Karachi, Pakistan into a livable and competitive megacity

Jon Kher Kaw's picture
It will take Karachi as much as $10 billion of capital investment over the next decade to close the infrastructure gaps in the city.
 
On the ground, it is not too difficult to see why this is so. More than 40% of residents rely on public transport, but with 45 residents competing for one bus seat, travel within the city is difficult. Water supply is highly irregular, and rationing is widespread. The availability of water ranges from four hours per day to two hours every other day. Many households rely on private vendors who sell water from tankers at high prices. The sewage network has not been well maintained since the 1960s, and all three existing treatment plants are dysfunctional. Industrial waste, which contains hazardous materials and heavy oils, is dumped directly into the sea untreated. Of the 12,000 tons of municipal solid waste generated each day, 60% never reaches a dumpsite; 80% of medical waste is not disposed of properly.
 
Garbage accumulated on a road median in Karachi. Photo: Annie Bidgood / World Bank

Cleaner streets mean healthier communities: The story of the “Zika Warriors”

Silpa Kaza's picture


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.

Organic waste as a valuable resource: A call for action

Farouk Banna's picture

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.

Peak Waste and Poverty – A Powerful Paradox

Dan Hoornweg's picture

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.