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solid waste

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.

Five reasons cities should take a leading role on food waste

John Morton's picture
Reported figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on food loss and food waste highlight its importance to the global environment. Food loss and waste annually contribute 3.3 gigagrams of CO2 equivalent, or over twice the total emissions of India; waste 250 cubic kilometers of water which is equivalent to 100 million Olympic-sized swimming pools; and 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural land, an area larger than China. Considering that, if only 1/4 of the food lost or wasted across the globe could be recovered, it could feed 750 million people, it is also shocking when presented in the context of global food insecurity and hunger.
 
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.

A virtuous circle: Integrating waste pickers into solid waste management

Martha Chen's picture
Waste – its generation, collection, and disposal – is a major global challenge of the 21st century. Recycling waste drives environmental sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stimulates the economy by supplying raw materials and packaging materials.
 
Waste pickers are the principal actors in reclaiming waste for the recycling industry. Across the world, large numbers of people from low-income and disadvantaged communities make a living collecting and sorting waste, and then selling reclaimed waste through intermediaries to the recycling industry. Where others see trash or garbage, the waste pickers see paper, cardboard, glass, and metal. They are skilled at sorting and bundling different types of waste by color, weight, and end use to sell to the recycling industry. Yet waste pickers are rarely recognized for the important role they play in creating value from the waste generated by others and in contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions.
 
Fortunately, around the world, waste pickers have been organizing and cities have begun to promote the virtuous circle that comes with integrating waste pickers, the world’s recyclers, into solid waste management.
 
Brazil was the first country to integrate waste pickers, through their cooperatives, into municipal solid waste management systems and the first to adopt a National Waste Policy, recognizing the contributions of waste pickers and providing a legal framework to enable cooperatives of waste pickers to contract as service providers. The national movement of waste pickers in Brazil was awarded a contract to clean the stadiums during the World Cup.
 

From plastic to pavement: Another example of creative waste management

Yara Salem's picture
plastic waste in Comoros
What if this “river” of plastic waste could be turned into a road to connect farmers to markets? (Photo: Farouk Mollah Banna/World Bank)

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.

From garbage to music: Inspiring creative waste management

Yara Salem's picture
 
The young musicians in this orchestra from Paraguay built their instruments from recycled materials (photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay used through a Creative Commons license.)
The young musicians in this orchestra from Paraguay built their instruments from recycled materials (photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay used through a Creative Commons license.)

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.

What does waste management have to do with reducing crime and violence in Jamaica?

Silpa Kaza's picture

Landfill in JamaicaUp until recently, if someone asked us what the most important benefits of solid waste management were, we would have said improving public health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or helping with drainage in cities.

When we landed in Kingston a couple months ago to prepare for the Integrated Community Development Project (ICDP), we became aware of another benefit of improving solid waste management: reducing crime.  We found that uncollected bulky waste such as laundry machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, and tree stumps could be used to block roads – and that glass bottles and other waste could be used as weapons.

A landfill in every living room

Alison Buckholtz's picture

Candida Brady, producer/director of “Trashed,” on communicating the need for clean-up

Candida Brady thinks everyone should visit a landfill for a day. The producer/director of the 2012 documentary “Trashed” (view trailer), which follows actor Jeremy Irons on a global tour of garbage sites, did just that at the beginning of her quest to understand the toll trash takes on peoples’ health.

Standing amid these mountains of decay is the only way for people to “understand landfills’ smell, and how it makes you feel,” Brady says. “None of us could talk after filming in them and one of my crew members was violently ill after we filmed in the landfill in Lebanon.”

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.

What Katherine Boo’s book tells us about the modern city: garbage has more mobility than citizens do

Sintana Vergara's picture


Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo. Random House, 2012.

Mumbai Slum, Girl on SwingKatherine Boo’s book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” digs deep into life in a Mumbai undercity. The author escapes the dichotomies that roll off our tongues when we speak of places that are replete with disparity; instead she spends seven years interviewing and observing, and brings us a story of life, hope, and despair in Annawadi, a slum precariously perched between an international airport and a sewage pond. What emerges is a sensitive, careful, complex portrait of characters that use the means at their disposal – hard work, political connections, lies, or prayers – to climb over the high walls that separate their city from the rest of Mumbai.

Using trash as a thread to tell the story, Boo illustrates both the feudal nature of life in Annawadi and the absolute segregation – the boundaries, to use Richard Sennett’s term – between the slum residents and those who live on the other side of the great big wall dividing the slum from the international airport. The narration is centered on Abdul and his family, who make money by selling recyclable materials from the city’s garbage. Their relative wealth has afforded them a position above the trash pickers’ – they own a small storage facility that allows them to purchase waste from collectors and sell it to waste dealers.


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