Info Sheets

    Urban Waste Management Issues

    The conditions, issues and problems of urban waste management in the industrialized and developing worlds are different. Though the developed countries generate larger amounts of wastes, they have developed adequate facilities, competent government institutions and bureaucracies to manage their wastes. Developing countries are still in the transition towards better waste management but they currently have insufficient collection and improper disposal of wastes. Clear government policies and competent bureaucracies for management of solid wastes are needed urgently especially in countries where there is rapid population growth through urbanization into peri-urban areas. Services and programmes that include proper waste disposal for management of hazardous biological and chemical wastes, minimisation and recycling will be needed. Disposal of wastes is commonly done by dumping (on land or into water bodies), incineration or long term storage in a secured facility. All these methods have varying degrees of negative environmental impacts with adverse environmental and health risks if wastes are improperly disposed or stored.

    • Waste management in developing countries must emphasize and be linked to the creation of jobs, poverty alleviation and community participation.
      Too often authorities in poor Third World cities seek to imitate the technology and equipment used in developed countries. This is misguided and linked to corruption through kickbacks from purchases of transport fleet or from contractors. Often does not make economic and social sense for the poor. For example, there is often an informal sector of refuse collectors and scavengers that has developed their livelihoods from collection and sales of materials. They minimise the volume of wastes to be collected for disposal. Adoption of waste management systems from developed countries will reduce access of garbage and displace such informal refuse collectors and scavengers, who end up poorer than before the “development” plan was implemented. Further, households in many developing countries do not sort their garbage (as done in industrialised countries) and so the adopted technology will simply collect to dispose all wastes without recovery of reusables and recyclables.

    • National policies should promote efficiency in the use of resources, emphasizing waste prevention and the productive use of wastes.
      There is increasing evidence that community-based approaches to waste management can promote a more sustainable development. Grassroots efforts can be more successful than top-down programs created by bureaucrats or experts with little or no community participation. During most of human history, the approach to waste management in many cultures and civilizations was the recovery of materials. Only around the turn of the twentieth century the emphasis shifted from recovery to disposal. During the nineteenth century there were pioneering efforts in England to minimize wastes as a way to improve industrial competitiveness.

    • Rural-urban alliance for food-nutrient exchange
      Soil degradation and decline in soil organic carbon and soil fertility are widespread. The use of recycled organic products can help to counter this and at the same time reduce accumulation of organics in the city. The rural-urban alliance means that separated organic fraction from garbage and their organic carbon and nutrients can be recycled into agricultural products that are ultimately return to cities again. However people who believe that cities are doomed to degradation and diseases and that landfills are "mines" in the future, also believe that the rural-urban alliance is just a trick by cities to 'dump trash' on farmers. Claiming that the urbans are doing the rurals a favor is a new twist on that same old story. Advocates for urban organic wastes need to explicitely demonstrate the purity of their product, the balanced nutrient value of their product, and the intermediate conditions of each stage in the storage/processing of the so-called "fertilizer" wastestream. International organic farming regulatory organizations require this now.

    • Alternatives to landfilling
      There is a strong movement in many countries to reduce the volume of wastes to be dumped. The increase of composting sites is an indication that organic fraction of garbage can be converted into a useful and commercial product with a higher value. For inert materials, technologies are needed to use wastes as raw materials to produce new products. Development of new materials from recycled materials will also encourage sorting of solid wastes. "Zero Waste" movement also targets industries and waste exchange. 40 % of landfilled wastes in industrialised countries come from building materials and this suggests that such wastes can be avoided by developing long-lasting materials and dwellings to reduce wastes from need to rebuild. Advocates of long-lasting materials and buildings say that any new waste recycling projects is not going to increase the knowledgebase appreciably. Instead funds for research and development should be diverted to redesigning dwellings that can last longer and that w ill facilitate higher levels of wastes-handling efficiencies. Conventional thinking will provide small gains only. Other alternatives and efforts indicate that
      • Onsite treatment and utilisation will reduce need for transport.
      • Waste minimization is a socially desirable goal.
      • Subsidy on products generated from recycled materials will encourage socio-economic changes.
      • centers with technologies that use collected waste materials are needed
      • wastes that have severe risks and excessive problems in disposal should be identified and those which cannot be neutralized may need to be restricted at the point of creation or entry
      • a database on wastes that are available will provide information to possible users of wastes.

    • Consumer and human lifestyles
      A change to less waste-generating with the use of less polluting products and cultivating habits with broad and deep educations are encouraged to understand the extent of the interdependent ecological problems. Producer Take-Back Campaigns and "Customer service" marketing strategy will also foster change in lifestyles. WASTE is not just garbage and includes misprioritizing limited financing or limited productivity so that unimportant things get done but important ones NEVER get done. Why don't we tackle and sort those WASTES? The WASTE OF AN ECOSYSTEM is petro-pollution which should have been obsolete and displaced over two decades ago with non-pollution alternatives.

    Source: Internet Conference and panel discussion on the theme "Urban Waste Management" http://segate.sunet.se/archives/et-w10.html
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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org