One of Professor David C Wilson’s long-standing research interests at Imperial College is the contribution made to solid waste management (SWM) in developing country cities by the often large informal recycling sector (IRS). This autumn has seen a flurry of activity. The leading French newspaper Le Monde ran a feature article by Gilles van Kotte on the importance of the IRS on 01 September 2012, including an interview with DCW. A major paper presented at the ISWA Annual Congress in September sets out a framework for professionalisation and integration of the IRS into SWM systems. DCW made a presentation to an Agence Française de Développement (AFD) conference in October, on the role of the role of public-private partnerships in SWM in developing countries, including that of the IRS. And DCW chaired an invited workshop in November to discuss partnerships between global producers of consumer goods and the IRS, to achieve product stewardship goals in developing countries.

Many developing country cities aspire to modern waste management systems, which are associated with relatively high recycling rates of clean, source separated materials. Most already have informal sector recycling systems, which are driven solely by the revenues derived from selling recovered materials, even though they are saving the formal sector money by reducing waste quantities. There is clear potential for ‘win-win’ solutions, which increase recycling rates, protect people’s livelihoods, improve working conditions and reduce child labour, bring the recyclers within the formal economy, and reduce further the overall costs of waste management for the formal sector.

DCW is currently leading work on the IRS for the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA)’s Task Force on Waste and Globalisation, which is aiming both to make the case for, and also to provide guidance on how to achieve, such professionalisation and integration. The ISWA Congress paper, presented on 18 September and  published in an open-access special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Waste Management & Research, sets out an analytical framework for selecting a set of interventions which is appropriate in a particular local situation. Possible interventions are grouped into four categories: one of these focuses on organisation and capacity building of the IRS; while the other three are the interfaces between the IRS and the formal SWM system, the materials and value chain, and society as a whole. The recommendation is that IRS professionalisation and integration initiatives should consider all four categories in a balanced way, and pay increased attention to their interdependencies which are central to success, including specific actions such as the IRS having access to source separated waste and to microfinance.

DCW was invited to present at the AFD conference in Paris on 25 October by PROPARCO, which promotes private sector investment in development. A special issue of their journal Private Sector & Development, on Waste: the challenges facing developing countries,was launched at the conference.

The Product Stewardship – Informal Sector Forum in Berlin on 14-15 November was hosted by the German Technical Co-operation AgencyGIZ, and organised for them by the consultancies RWA and Waste.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) was developed in Europe as a policy tool, aiming to transfer the responsibility and costs of managing post-consumer product waste back from the local authorities to the ‘producer’ or supply-chain which provided the original product. The aim of this informal forum was to exchange and develop practical, workable ideas for sustainable, inclusive product stewardship in middle-income countries, where the existing recyclers are largely in the informal sector.