Our new open access paper tests and confirms for the first time the long-standing hypothesis that both the rate of municipal solid waste (MSW) generation in a city, and the performance of its MSW management system, depends on its level of socio-economic development level. We prepared the first consistent and comprehensive dataset for 40 cities around the world and used state-of-the-art statistical and machine learning techniques to correlate Wasteaware Cities Benchmark Indicators (WABI) with a broad range of explanatory socio-economic indices (including Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Social Progress Index (SPI) and Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
The results indicate that progress in collection coverage, and controlled recovery and disposal, has already taken place in low- and middle-income cities, although improvements in service quality often lag improvements in service coverage. However, the elephant in the room is that if we continue with ‘business as usual’ development, waste generation per capita and the total quantities (and cost) of waste management services will substantially increase. We urgently need to find new approaches to decoupling waste generation from economic growth and social progress.
The paper is open access and can be downloaded free of charge. It has taken a long time in preparation: thanks to my co-authors Costas Velis, Yoni Gavish, Sue M Grimes and Andrew Whiteman.
I am pleased that the RICS Land Journal has published online an updated version of my article on the untapped potential for the waste and resource management sector to act as an enabler to unlock significant climate mitigation benefits across the economy. My best estimate of the mitigation potential is at least 15-20% of global carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions, which is far beyond the IPCC’s estimate of 3% for the narrowly defined end-of-the linear-economy ‘waste’ sector, which is necessarily used in official climate reporting to avoid double counting.
This post supercedes that titled ‘COP26 and the waste and resource sector’, first published on 25 October 2022:
How much can better waste and resource management contribute to mitigating global heating? Prof David C Wilson addressed this question at the Policy Connect Sustainable Resource Forum seminar on October 11 2021. The answer with a high level of confidence is ‘significantly’, perhaps 15-20% of global carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions. DCW has now written this up as a ‘thought piece’, making the case for prioritising actions at COP26 and beyond to improve waste and resource management and move towards the circular economy. This may be found as both an article and as a video interview on WasteAid’s COP26 online hub; as a feature on CIWM’s Circular Online; and as an ISWA guest blog.
A key constraint to improving waste and resource management in many countries is a lack of access to investment finance. Extending waste collection to all and phasing out uncontrolled dumping and open burning in low-income countries would significantly cut the mass of plastics reaching the ocean. So the UNEP Finance Initiative publication Diving Deep, aimed at banks, insurers and institutional investors, is very welcome. Guidance is provided in the form of a science-based, actionable toolkit, to ensure that their investments, both in product manufacture and in waste management, encourage waste prevention and sound waste management, thus keeping plastics out of the oceans.
The promotional video and the document itself are worth looking at just for the wonderful images by world-renowned photographer Cristina Mittermeier of Sea Legacy. The guidance was prepared by WWF (led by Paula Chin) and RWA (led by Andy Whiteman). DCW played a small role as one of the reviewers.
DCW was sent a copy of Practical Action’s new report ‘Managing Our Wastes 2021’ a few weeks ago and invited to write an endorsement for it. Having read and reviewed it, I was happy to do so; the report was launched today in a webinar hosted by UN-Habitat. The full text of what I wrote appears after the foreword by Practical Action’s Patron, Prince Charles.
‘Solid waste management is the ‘Cinderella’ among the essential utility services. Despite the crisis of some 40 per cent of the world’s population having no access, it has received very limited attention from either international agencies or mainstream development charities. I have been supporting Practical Action for nearly 50 years, so I warmly welcome this important new report which fills that gap. Most development work tackles the issue from the ‘top down’, and often focuses on (large scale) infrastructure. Much of my work over the last 25 years has focused on expanding performance assessment and planning of SWM systems in developing countries to include governance (including stakeholder inclusivity) alongside technical aspects; and to consider the often ‘informal’ recycling sector alongside ‘formal’ municipal waste management. Practical Action has taken that one step further, to strengthen the ‘bottom-up’, people-centred aspects. Sustainable waste and resource management needs to work for the poorest people, providing both a quality service which keeps slum areas clean and healthy, and a decent livelihood for the multitude of workers who deliver collection and recycling services. Both the revised assessment methods, the four insightful case studies and the four priority themes work well. I commend to you this important new manifesto to put people back at the centre of how we manage our solid wastes.’
Professor David C. Wilson. Visiting Professor in Resource and Waste Management, Imperial College London; Lead author of UNEP’s Global Waste Management Outlook
Professor David C Wilson is pleased to co-author an important new publication The Nine Development Bands: A conceptual framework and global theory of waste and development. The open access paper in ISWA’s peer-reviewed journal Waste Management & Research can be downloaded freely. The ‘9 DBs’ builds on the integrated sustainable waste management (ISWM) analytical framework to help characterise waste and resources management (WaRM) systems in cities and countries. Based on over 100 years of combined experience of the authors (Andrew Whiteman, Mike Webster and DCW), the 9DBs is a powerful addition to the waste management practitioner’s toolkit, bringing depth and nuance to understanding of WaRM systems globally.
The early DBs reflect stepwise improvement towards the new
baseline of meeting the SDG 11.6.1 indicators of universal collection and
management in controlled facilities (DB5); while later DBs represent two
prevailing routes to move towards environmentally sound management (ESM) and
the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). An aspirational DB Zero, a real circular
economy, sits above all 9 DBs, accessible via multiple pathways, posing an
ultimate challenge for development practice. The 9DBs contextualise the
challenge of meeting the waste-related SDGs, in particular for developing
countries striving towards SDG 11.6.1 but also for all countries aspiring to a
circular economy. Whether you are a practitioner, decision-maker, service
provider, or sector activist, the 9DBs will help you to identify the key
pressure points for catalysing change, and focus your time and resources on
achieving maximum impact.
Professor David C. Wilson has contributed a chapter on the SDGs as drivers for change to The Routledge Handbook of Waste, Resources and the Circular Economy, edited by Terry Tudor and Cleber Dutra and published on 28 December 2020. This has been a subject on which DCW has worked extensively, as re-casting improved waste and resource management as an entry point for tackling multiple, high-profile sustainable development goals significantly strengthens the case for action.
Solid waste management is not one of the high-level SDGs; like the equally important topic of air pollution, it is rather cross-cutting, impacting on multiple SDGs. DCW links five global waste targets, as defined in UNEP and ISWA’s inaugural Global Waste Management Outlook, to the 17 SDGs. He shows strong and in principle measurable links to six SDGs, not only the ‘obvious’ SDG11 (sustainable cities) & indicator 11.6.1, and SDG12 (responsible consumption and production); but also SDG1 (end poverty), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation); and SDG13 climate action and SDG14 life below water (preventing plastics reaching the oceans). Links to six other high priority SDGs are still direct but more difficult to measure (e.g. SDG8 decent work through sustainable job creation, and SDG2 zero hunger through reducing food waste). Indirect links can also be made to the remaining five SDGs, including difficult-to-tackle equality and governance issues.
The Handbook sits behind a paywall, with only the abstract of the chapter online. The accepted manuscript of the chapter can be downloaded here: