Resource Use

‘Urgent response’ needed for urban waste

An ‘urgent response’ is needed to the 10 billion tonnes of urban waste that is produced globally each year, says the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The call was made at the launch this week of a new report, the ‘Global Waste Management Outlook’, by UNEP and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), which also claims that 3 billion people worldwide lack access to controlled waste disposal facilities.

Moreover, according to the report, population growth, urbanisation and rising consumption mean that this figure could double in lower-income cities by 2030.

In response to these figures, the report calls for immediate improvement of waste collection and disposal, waste prevention and the maximisation of reuse and recycling practices. It also stresses the need for a global switch to a circular economy, shifting away from the linear ‘take-make-use-waste’ economy.

The report comes the same week as the ISWA published a report highlighting the ‘global health emergency’ of open dumps, which it says affects tens of million of people in developing countries without adequate sanitation infrastructure.

The front page of the Global Waste Management Outlook
Good practice in the developed and developing world

In seeking a solution to these issues, the report looks at case studies of countries that have turned to treating waste as a resource rather than an environmental threat and gives examples of costs being cut from waste disposal and the gains being reinvested into the recovery of raw materials.

In the Belgian region of Flanders, for example, the UNEP states that the rate of waste being diverted from landfill grew from close to zero in the 1980s to over 70 per cent in 2013, the highest rate in Europe.

According to the report, this growth was the result of a number of ‘social, legal and fiscal policies’ including waste prevention education, establishing reuse centres and a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ taxation system based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

Developing countries are also considered in the report. It highlights an informal recycling scheme being integrated into the municipal waste management system in Columbian capital Bogotá, where 1,200 tonnes are now diverted from landfill daily, with around 8,250 jobs accompanying the practice.

Global call for action

The UNEP and ISWA conclude that national governments and the international community must address these goals, forming a global call for action.

For developing countries, according to the organisations, the focus must centre on mobilising international aid and environmental and climate funds to assist the poorest countries. To begin with, they call for 100 per cent coverage in all cities with a population greater than one million, the elimination of open burning of municipal solid wastes and the closure of large open dumps.

The report also stresses the need to develop a holistic approach to managing residual waste in sanitary ways and building on existing recycling systems, with safe management of hazardous wastes.

Finally, it seeks to ensure that international companies comply with more producer responsibility programmes, giving them more responsibility for the waste management of their products.

Taking all countries into account, the report notes that in order to meet the 2030 goals of managing all waste sustainably and halving per capita global food waste, they must:

  • ‘Improve access to financing for sound waste management facilities and operations.
  • ‘Reduce waste at source, engage citizens, industries and other stakeholders – move from linear waste management to the circular economy.
  • ‘Improve substantially the availability and reliability of waste and resource management data – if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’

Urgent response an environmental, social and economic necessity

Commenting at the launch of the report, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “An urgent response to the world's mounting waste problem is not only a public health and environmental necessity, but also a sound economic investment. Inaction is costing countries 5-10 times more than investments in proper waste management.

“A greater commitment by nations to systematically apply the three ‘R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – can transform the problem of waste into a resource for our economies.

“The global waste management goals proposed by this report have the potential to result in dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases, the creation of millions of green jobs and economic benefits in the hundreds of billions of dollars. By achieving them, we would also be taking massive strides toward realising the [United Nations] sustainable development goals."

David Newman, ISWA President, added: “The ‘Global Waste Management Outlook’ will help the waste management industry define its future over the next decade, and it also is an urgent call for action for investments to drive a global clean-up of the billions of tonnes of waste still dumped into our environment."

Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, President of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), concluded: “Collectively, we have the technological capacity to solve the global waste problem. Despite of this, a staggering 3 billion people worldwide lack access to controlled waste disposal, with the result that wastes litter our streets with grave environmental and health consequences.

“This situation can be changed only if countries enforce proactive policies and sound institutions that encourage waste minimisation and recycling.

“Major producers should also be more involved in managing the entire lifecycle of their products. International cooperation will be vital in preventing developing countries from becoming dumping ground for hazardous materials.”

Read the ‘Global Waste Management Outlook.

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