Sat, Dec 22, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Reaching new frontiers in waste management

By Mahmoud Mohieldin, Sameh Wahba and Silpa Kaza

The world is mired in a serious, if underreported, crisis. Every year, humans generate nearly 2 billion tonnes of household waste, and much more industrial, hazardous, electronic, medical and construction waste, much of which is disposed of inadequately.

As usual, the consequences — environmental destruction, damage to health and impeded development — are disproportionately affecting the world’s poor.

As it stands, at least one-third of all global waste is openly dumped or burned. In low-income countries, which might already spend as much of 20 percent of their municipal budgets on waste management, that figure can rise as high as 93 percent.

The damage to human health and the environment is already profound.

For example, each year, the world generates 220 million tonnes of plastic, which comprises as much as 90 percent of ocean debris, damaging the marine ecosystem and ending up in our own bodies.

According to Ocean Conservancy, plastic has been found in every species of sea turtle and more than 25 percent of fish sampled from seafood markets around the world.

The problem is set to worsen. The What a Waste 2.0 report projects that annual global waste generation will increase by as much as 70 percent by 2050, even as the world’s population grows by less than half that.

Half of the increase will come from Sub-Saharan Africa, where waste generation will more than triple, and South Asia, where it will more than double.

Confronting the escalating waste crisis will be crucial to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits countries to achieving sustainable production and consumption patterns (SDG No. 12). It also calls for universal access to clean water and sanitation (SDG No. 6), and the creation of healthy and sustainable cities (SDG No. 11).

SDG No. 14 — “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” — obviously cannot be achieved without major progress in fighting marine pollution.

Fortunately, the world finally seems to be recognizing the scale of the waste crisis. October’s Our Ocean Conference in Bali, Indonesia, focused on generating commitments and formulating measures to maintain ocean sustainability, including by cutting marine pollution. In particular, there has been a surge in bans or taxes imposed on certain plastics or plastic products.

However, addressing the issue of plastic consumption still requires far-reaching behavioral change.

At the same time, the plastic waste that is produced needs to be managed better to prevent it from ending up in waterways.

Given that larger countries make the biggest contributions to plastic pollution, improving waste management there will have a major impact.

Where regulations to prevent dumping are insufficient, they should be strengthened and enforced.

There are already numerous successful models of waste management and disposal that might provide a useful starting point for such changes.

Forward-thinking action will also be critical in countries anticipating rapid economic and/or population growth, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Of course, such changes cost money, which is often in short supply. On average, local governments pay half of countries’ costs for solid waste management. Although lower-income countries spend less on waste management in absolute terms, they have a harder time recovering costs.

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