New CIWM President calls for community waste schemes to tackle global waste crisis

Effective, community-based resource management and increased levels of international development finance dedicated to sustainable waste management are crucial to addressing health and environmental challenges in low- and middle-income countries, says the incoming President of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM), Professor David Wilson.

The new CIWM President, MBE and former Board Director at Environmental Resources Management (ERM), made the remarks as he launched the 2017/18 Presidential Report - ‘Making Waste Work: A toolkit - Community Waste Management in Low and Middle Income Countries’ - during his inaugural speech as President at a special reception in London yesterday (17 October).

The toolkit is designed to provide communities with less developed waste management infrastructure the tools and knowledge to employ low-cost ‘waste to wealth’ technologies involving minimal capital investment to reduce waste and turn waste arising into products that can be sold locally.

New CIWM President calls for community waste management schemes to tackle global waste crisis
New CIWM President Professor David Wilson uses inaugural speech to call for action on waste crisis in the developing world

Speaking before assembled members of the UK resources and waste management industry, Wilson said: “With simple tools and the right knowledge, people can become ‘self-employed recycling entrepreneurs’, providing a very valuable service for the health and wellbeing of their community and the whole planet, as well as reducing poverty and creating sustainable livelihoods.”

Global waste crisis

The ‘Making Waste Work’ toolkit draws on work carried out by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) in 2015 in the ‘Global Waste Management Outlook’ (GWMO), of which Professor Wilson was Editor-in-Chief.

The GWMO estimates that around two billion people have no access to waste collections, while the waste of some three billion people is disposed of through unregulated dumping or uncontrolled burning. This situation gives rise to a number of serious public health implications for those living in these areas, with children growing up in households without waste collection twice as likely to experience diarrhoea and six times as likely to develop an acute respiratory infection, in part due to the uncontrolled burning of waste.

These deleterious consequences arising in the absence of an effective waste management service are not limited to the developing world, nor are they limited to public health concerns.

“It affects us as well as them,” said Wilson. “As waste professionals we are all aware that methane from landfill is a major contributor to global warming, but our research at Imperial College suggests black carbon from the open burning of waste in developing countries could contribute as much again. Also uncollected waste and dumping in coastal towns and cities of developing countries likely contributes more than half the plastics entering the world’s oceans.”

This all amounts to “nothing less than a global waste crisis” and one that requires urgent action. Wilson sees this as an opportunity for the international community to step up and deliver in its capacity to help those countries and communities in which waste management is not as developed as it needs to be, calling on international development finance to increase the current levels of aid being directed to sustainable waste management from 0.3 per cent to three per cent and for the closure of the 50 largest dumpsites in the world.

In addition to this action on a global scale can be added the recommendations contained in the ‘Making Waste Work’ toolkit.

According to the toolkit, communities with no access to waste management can either await outside intervention from government or international aid programmes while their waste problem worsens, or they can find a way to work together and turn their waste into an opportunity, through involving youth, women and marginalised groups in waste collection and reprocessing, bringing local economic benefits through the sale of reprocessed waste products and health benefits through a healthier, cleaner environment.

Presenting highlights from the Making Waste Work, Mike Webster, Chief Executive of the charity WasteAid UK, who were commissioned by CIWM to prepare the toolkit, added: “The essential waste management skills and recycling techniques we share in Making Waste Work can help a typical community to recycle up to eighty per cent of its waste. We are confident that our model is effective and that simple waste management brings major improvements to people’s lives. We are now urgently seeking funders and partners to help us train more people to become recycling entrepreneurs.”

Domestic issues

While dedicating a large part of his inaugural speech to the global waste problem, Professor Wilson did not shirk the opportunity to reiterate the importance of solid waste management as a public utility and the need to protect strong regulations following Brexit.

Professor Wilson asserted that waste management is one of the key, modern public utilities and must be protected as public sector budgets come under increasing pressure, stating “we must not lose sight of where we have come from, that the service exists first and foremost to protect public health.”

“Two major priorities for CIWM are to ensure that following Brexit we have continuity of the strong regulations on which the very existence of the waste and resources industry depends, and the continuing fight against waste crime,” he continued. “An important part of that regulatory underpinning is health and safety and CIWM is also committed to reducing the unacceptable fatality rates in the industry.”

While continuity is important on one hand, Professor Wilson went on to talk about the step change in approach to resources and waste that is happening, and he called for a “necessary parallel focus on the 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – and on the shift from the linear model to a circular economy where resource efficiency and productivity is key”. An integrated and inclusive approach will be needed, he said, as well as a balanced set of policy drivers.

A life in waste

Professor David Wilson has had an exceptional career in the waste management industry spanning 40 years working primarily as a waste and resource management consultant for a number of reputable companies, as well as independently.

Professor Wilson graduated in Chemistry from Oxford University in 1974 before obtaining his DPhil in planning for municipal solid waste management. He then went on to run Harwell Laboratory’s Hazardous Waste Research Unit for the Department of Environment until 1982, before going on to lead ERM’s international waste management service for almost 20 years, and then moving into freelance consultancy, combined with a teaching and research role at Imperial College, London, a position he has held since 2000.

His work also extended to the public sector, working on the first two waste and resource management strategies for 10 years until 2007 with the then Department of Environment in his native Northern Ireland, as well as advising Defra on waste and resource policy-making for nearly 10 years until 2013. He was later Editor-in-Chief for the United Nations Environment Programme’s inaugural GWMO, published with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) in 2015.

In recognition of his work down the years, Professor Wilson was awarded an MBE in 2006 ‘for services to waste management in the UK and Europe’.

The ‘Making Waste Work’ toolkit can be found on the CIWM website.

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