Socio-economic development drives solid waste management performance in cities

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.

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 The paper uses previously unpublished results from the Wasteaware database to compare Kigali’s performance with four other East African capital cities – Dar-es-Salaam, Kampala, Nairobi and Maputo.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.