Urban waste a 'silent and growing problem'
by Daniel Mason
The amount of waste generated in urban areas is likely to rise sharply over the next decade-and-a-half, with parts of eastern Europe among the regions that will see the fastest growth – the World Bank has said.
A new report, What a waste: a global review of solid waste management, estimates that the amount of municipal waste produced will rise from 1.3 billion tonnes each year now to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025 – with the annual costs of dealing with it set to soar from $205bn to $375bn.
Dan Hoornweg, co-author of the report, described it as a "silent problem that is growing daily", adding: "The challenges surrounding municipal solid waste are going to be enormous, on a scale of, if not greater than, the challenges we are currently experiencing with climate change". He said the report should act as a "giant wake-up call" to policy-makers to take action to tackle the problem.
According to the study, much of the increase in waste will come in rapidly growing cities in developing nations, while low income countries will also be most affected by the rising costs. It notes that as living standards rise and urban populations grow there is a "looming crisis" in the treatment of municipal waste – one of the most important and expensive items managed by urban authorities.
"Improving solid waste management, especially in the rapidly growing cities of low income countries, is becoming a more and more urgent issue," said the World Bank's Rachel Kyte. "The findings of this report are sobering, but they also offer hope that once the extent of this issue is recognised, local and national leaders, as well as the international community, will mobilise to put in place programmes to reduce, reuse, recycle, or recover as much waste as possible before burning it – and recovering the energy – or otherwise disposing of it."
The amount of urban rubbish produced is growing fastest in China, which is already the world's largest generator of waste after overtaking the United States in 2004. But the quantity produced is also growing rapidly in parts of eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. "There is a direct correlation between the per capital level of income in cities and the amount of waste per capita that is generated," says the report. "In general, as a country urbanises and populations become wealthier, the consumption of inorganic materials – for example plastics, paper, glass, aluminium – increases, while the relative organic fraction decreases."
The authors call for an "integrated solid waste management plan" for cities. They note that urban waste is estimated to account for almost 5 per cent of total global greenhouse gases, while methane from landfills represents 12 per cent of total global methane emissions. The report advocates improving public education about recycling, as well as using price incentives to encourage people to throw less away and promote recycling.
Wrong waste policy can be 'environmentally disastrous'
The best way to deal with waste and recycling differs from country to country – so policy-makers need to be wary of doing more environmental harm than good when they put new trans-boundary laws and regulations in place, writes Bj÷rn H Halldˇrsson