The untapped potential for better waste and resource management to curb global heating

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.

Nine Development Bands – a new theory of waste and development

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.

SDGs as Drivers of Change for Waste and Resource Management

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:

Resource and Waste Management and the SDGs

Prof David C Wilson took part in a panel discussion at the RWM with CIWM exhibition and conference at the NEC in Birmingham this week. He made the point that while we already know what needs to be done to extend municipal solid waste management services to the unserved half of the World’s population, the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) are critical to unlocking the political will to make it happen.

Extending waste collection to everyone and eliminating open dumping and burning would specifically address targets under SDGs 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 6 (clean water and sanitation). But it would also halve the quantities of plastics reaching the oceans (SDG14 life below water) and contribute to climate mitigation (SDG13) and public health (SDG3). Local recycling would also contribute significantly to SDG8 (livelihoods) and SDG1 (end poverty).

DCW is currently drafting a chapter on SDGs as a driver for change, for an upcoming Routledge Handbook on the circular economy.

Benchmarking performance of SWM systems in East Africa

Professor David C Wilson has been working for the last two years with the Rwandan academic Telesphore Kabera to apply the Wasteaware indicators to benchmark performance of the solid waste management (SWM) and recycling system in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Their results form the basis of a paper published today in the first ever open access issue of the long established ISWA peer-reviewed journal Waste Management & Research. The paper uses previously unpublished results from the Wasteaware database to compare Kigali’s performance with four other East African capital cities – Dar-es-Salaam, Kampala, Nairobi and Maputo.
The Wasteaware benchmark indicators grew out of work originally carried out for UN-Habitat’s Soild Waste Management in the World’s Cities (2010). They provide a standardised method to characterise the performance of a city’s SWM and recycling system across some 15 indicators, some quantitative and some qualitative, covering both waste generation, the physical aspects of waste and resource management, and various governance aspects. Results for the first 40 cities were used extensively in UNEP and ISWA’s inaugural Global Waste Management Outlook (2015). They are now being applied widely, both to characterise the baseline position in a city; to identify priority areas for improvement; and to monitor progress over time.

From this paper on East Africa, the stand-out result is the relatively high collection coverage achieved in two of the cities: in Maputo with extensive international technical assistance, and in Kigali using its own local resources. In both cases, governance factors are key. Kigali uses a public-private partnership (PPP), with exclusive franchises in 35 sectors being tendered every three years; households pay an affordable fee depending on their ability to pay (the service is free to the poorest category); 95% fee collection rates are achieved, partly through co-collection with charges for local security patrols, which is a service people value highly given the recent history of the country.

Another key priority to improve solid waste management across East Africa is to eliminate open dumping – only Kampala currently has an engineered disposal site. Recycling rates also need to be increased – only Nairobi currently has a good baseline to build on (30%). Common weaknesses include a lack of segregation at source; and of institutional capacity and of available and reliable waste data.