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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.