Waste Management in Agenda 21

Hari Srinivas

Waste is an underlying issue throughout most of the Chapters of Agenda 21 - either as a cause of a number of environmental problems, or a result/output of human activities. While Chapters 20, 21 and 22 deal specifically and directly with waste issues, other chapters (outlined below) deal with the impact and effect of waste on other environmental issues.

As the following paragraphs show, most of the chapters either directly emphasize the need to manage waste, or advocate the institution of measures that reduce generation of waste, or its effective integration into recycling or reuse scheme that maintains material flow loops.

Full text of Agenda 21 Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.

Agenda 21 was adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3 to 14 June 1992.

Download PDF and read the official Agenda 21 document

Chapter 4. Changing consumption patterns
Changing consumption patterns is dealt with in this chapter in terms of its influence over resource optimization and waste minimization. Minization of waste generation is a key activity advocated by this chapter, calling for recycling and reusing of waste products from industrial and other everyday processes.

Chapter 5. Demographic dynamics and sustainability
Chapter 5 calls for incorporating demographic features into policies and plans: " ... in formulating human settlements policies, account should be taken of resource needs, waste production and ecosystem health."

Chapter 6. Protecting and promoting human health conditions
Taking into account the link between waste generation and its risk to human health, Chapter 6 calls for the development of appropriate solid waste disposal technologies on the basis of health risk assessment, particularly in large cities. It also emphasizes that there is an urgent need to address the prevention and reduction of man-made disasters and/or disasters caused by industries, unsafe nuclear power generation and/or toxic wastes.

Chapter 7. Promoting sustainable human settlement development
In promoting sustainable human settlement development, Chapter 7 calls for the integrated provision of environmental infrastructure: water, sanitation, drainage and solid-waste management, along with sustainable energy and transport systems. It calls for innovative city planning strategies to carry this out, particularly as developing countries adopt a 'fast-track' approach to their growing economies. It stresses that one of the parameters of sustainability in urban areas is effective management of its wastes.

Chapter 8. Integrating environment and development in decision-making
In advocating effective environmental decision-making, Chapter 8 calls on governments to explore, in cooperation with business and industry, how effective use can be made of economic instruments and market mechanisms in number of issues, including wastes.

Chapter 9. Protection of the atmosphere
While recognizing that industry is essential for the production of goods and services and is a major source of employment and income, and industrial development as such is essential for economic growth, Chapter 9 also states that " industry is a major resource and materials user and consequently industrial activities result in emissions into the atmosphere and the environment as a whole." One of the measures it advocates in protecting the air quality and the atmosphere in general is the reduction of wastes.

Chapter 11. Combating deforestation
In Chapter 11, one of the measures advocated for combating deforestation is the reduction of wood wastes and its effective reuse either as-is, or as a part of 'composite' materials that reduce the use of virgin and natural wood.

Chapter 14. Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development
In order to promote sustainable agriculture and rural development, Chapter 14 calls on governments to develop and disseminate to farming households integrated farm management technologies, while enhancing techniques for waste and by-product utilization.

Chapter 16. Environmentally sound management of biotechnology
Chapter 16 recognizes the role of biotechnology particularly in detoxification of hazardous wastes, and links it to the goal of better, overall human health. It calls for the adoption of production processes making optimal use of natural resources, by recycling biomass, recovering energy and minimizing waste generation, as well as the use of biotechnologies, with emphasis on bio-remediation of land and water, waste treatment, soil conservation, reforestation, afforestation and land rehabilitation.

Chapter 17. Protection of the oceans, all kinds of seas, including enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, and coastal areas and the protection, rational use and development of their living resources
A critical element of the protection of oceans and other water bodies is effective waste management, and chapter 17 advocates several measures for this - improved environmental management of coastal cities. Developing countries are emphasized, calling for cooperation through financial support, to maximize control and reduction of substances and wastes that are toxic, persistent or liable to bio-accumulate and to establish environmentally sound land-based waste disposal alternatives to sea dumping.

Chapter 18. Protection of the quality and supply of freshwater resources: application of integrated approaches to the development, management and use of water resources
Chapter 18 makes a special case for waste-water issues, and its impact on freshwater. It covers the impacts of discharge of wastes into water bodies as well as groundwater pollution from landfills etc. Purification of wastewater before it is discharged is called for, including their use in agriculture and aquaculture, and the use of appropriate technologies for the purpose. It also sets targets for governments: " By the year 2000, to have ensured that 75 per cent of solid waste generated in urban areas are collected and recycled or disposed of in an environmentally safe way."

Chapter 19. Environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals, including prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products
This chapter focuses on prevention of the illegal traffic in toxic and dangerous products and wastes by monitoring and making regional assessments of that illegal traffic and its environmental and health implications. It also encourages industry to develop an internationally agreed upon code of principles for the management of trade in chemicals, recognizing in particular the responsibility for making available information on potential risks and disposal practices if those chemicals become wastes.

Chapter 20. Environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, in hazardous wastes
Chapter 21. Environmentally sound management of solid wastes and sewage-related issues Chapter 22. Safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes
Chapters 20, 21 and 22 focus exclusively on waste issues, including hazardous and radioactive waste. It lays out objectives and action to be taken, as well as some key numeric targets to be achieved.

Chapter 24. Global action for women towards sustainable and equitable development
Chapter 24 recognizes the impact of environmental problems on the lives of women/children. It calls for urgent measures to avert the ongoing rapid environmental and economic degradation in developing countries that generally affects the lives of women and children in rural areas suffering drought, desertification and deforestation, armed hostilities, natural disasters, toxic waste and the aftermath of the use of unsuitable agro-chemical products.

Chapter 30. Strengthening the role of business and industry
Chapter 30 recognizes that more efficient production processes, preventive strategies, cleaner production technologies and procedures throughout the product life cycle, can play a major role in reducing impacts on resource use and the environment, and in minimizing wastes. It calls on governments, business and industry, including transnational corporations, to aim to increase the efficiency of resource utilization, including increasing the reuse and recycling of residues, and to reduce the quantity of waste discharge per unit of economic output.

Chapter 32. Strengthening the role of farmers
The chapter calls for the establishment of networks for the exchange of experiences with regard to farming that help to conserve land, water and forest resources, minimize the use of chemicals and reduce or reutilize farm wastes.

Chapter 34. Transfer of environmentally sound technology, cooperation and capacity-building
Environmentally sound technologies protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources in a more sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they were substitutes. By definition, waste generation becomes an important criteria to identify and select a technology as 'environmentally sound'. The chapter extensively covers the topic and how this can be done.

Return to the Waste Management page
Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org