Working Paper Solid Waste Management and Sewage Related Issues Chapter 21, Agenda 21 Prepared for the Commission on Sustainable Development by The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), Task Manager for chapter 21 on Solid Waste Management and Sewage Related Issues. I. Introduction 1. Much of the activities under solid waste management are a subset of the activities under the broader topic of human settlements management. Thus the review and recommendations below should be considered together with the information in the main text reviewing chapter 7. 2. Chapter 21 of Agenda 21 on solid waste management and sewage related issues comprises of four programme areas: (a) Waste minimisation; (b) Promotion of waste recycling and reuse ; (c) Promoting environmentally sound waste disposal; and (d) Extending waste disposal service coverage. 3. Programme area A is linked to reducing unsustainable consumption patterns, and as such, requires national level policies. Programme are B requires collaboration of local authorities with the local informal sector given this area's presence in recycling based income generation potential, particularly in the developing countries. Programme area C requires the collaboration of local and national authorities, based on appropriate and sustainable legal instruments and their effective implementation. Such legal instruments may need to re- consider the application of the "polluter pays principle" to the case of solid waste management. Programme area D is an area of joint programming with both the formal and informal waste management sectors playing a key role. Efforts in this area need to take into account income-based differences in willingness to pay. II. General Overview 4. Rapid urbanisation and the associated growth of industry and services is a key feature of economic and demographic development in many developing countries. Cities are currently absorbing two- thirds of the total population increase throughout the developing world. At this rate 1.9 billion people are estimated to populate the urban areas of developing countries by the year 2000, in addition to the already heavy urbanization level in the developed countries. 5. One of the most important environmental problems of urbanisation is the amount of solid waste that is generated at a rate that outstrips the ability of the natural environment to assimilate it and municipal authorities to manage it. The resulting contamination affects all environmental media and has a direct negative effect on human health and the quality of urban life. Current approaches to solid waste management is by and large, unsustainable. 6. Despite such apparent neglect of solid waste issues, it currently consumes a large proportion of most municipal budgets; in some cases, as much as 50 per cent. Efforts to reduce this expenditure would (i) free some municipal funds for other services, such as primary health care, and (ii) encourage further development of re-use and recycling techniques that highlight solid waste as a valuable resource. 7. The primary responsibility for solid waste management rests with city authorities who are the single most important actors to implement the activities of Chapter 21. Successful outcomes will require the delegation of special responsibilities and financial resources to the local authorities by central governments. This, in many cases, will involve policy changes, legal reform, institutional capacity-building, the use of modern management approaches and appropriate technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of current solid-waste management practices. 8. In many cities of the developed world, solid and liquid waste management is undertaken by the private sector under contract to the local authorities. The trend of similar private sector involvement also appears to be increasingly the case in developing countries as well. There are, however, risks related to the infrastructure preceding such privatization. For example, an inefficiently run public service, often the case in waste collection, is susceptible to being replaced by a private monopoly over which the municipal council would have little control. In this context, use of competitive tendering, retaining several different companies for the service needed and monitoring of contractor's performance ensure acceptable and effective services. 9. There is much scope for improving the real value of current and future investments already made in the formal and informal waste management sector. For example, studies carried out by UNCHS (Habitat) as well as by UNDP and World Bank have shown that highly developed and active informal waste management networks exist, particularly in the developing countries. Similarly, many local authorities and their organizations are taking initiatives to share techniques through partnerships and twinning, to deal with the growing solid waste issue. Encouraging and supportive policies from central governments would assist the efforts of both the formal and the informal solid waste management sectors. In the case of the latter, further support could not only drastically reduce waste collection costs but could also improve income-generation and employment opportunities of the urban poor. III. Review of Chapter 21 A. International Cooperation 10. The principal role of UN agencies in catalyzing action under Chapter 21 should be to strengthen the indigenous capacities of developing countries to manage wastes. The latter is frequently within the informal sector. The challenge for the United Nations Agencies is to act as a vehicle for technology transfer between developing countries and to draw the attention of formal waste management authorities to the technological potentials of the informal sector's . Further technology development must adapt indigenous research and development. 11. Several UN agencies have been focusing on management of solid waste. Concern for municipal solid waste management has been a key element of UNEP's human settlements programme. It has organized many training courses on municipal waste management, through its Technology and Environment Branch (TEAB), before the onset of UNCED or Agenda 21. Under the auspices of the Secretariat for the Basel Convention on hazardous waste, UNEP has also undertaken some activities pertinent to municipal waste management. The WHO has a similar track record of reporting on technical options for waste management and of organizing regional workshops on a number of specialized topics including medical wastes. WHO is currently cooperating with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on a global waste survey. The World Bank has been involved in a variety of infrastructure development projects for solid waste management. 12. UNCHS (Habitat) has been actively contributing to related environmental infrastructure issues both from a research and development and from a technical cooperation point of view. The activities and projects of the Settlement, Infrastructure and Environment Programme (SIEP) focus on specific areas such as: development of management tools for solid waste; innovative approaches to waste recycling and reuse and; capacity building through training workshops. Among other contributions of UNCHS (Habitat) are production of a computer software for refuse vehicle selection; promotion of indigenous technologies; international workshops; and expanding its City Data Programme to improve the efficiency and operability of solid waste management in developing country cities. 13. The UNCHS (Habitat) Sustainable Cities Programme (SCP) has achieved good results with assisting in the move towards privatisation of solid waste management in selected cities and has established an innovative framework for city consultations leading to improved city management functions. 14. The joint World Bank/UNCHS (Habitat)/UNDP Urban Management Programme (UMP) is currently preparing publications on private- public partnerships on solid waste management and regional activities have addressed technical cooperation between developing countries (TCDC) for municipal waste managers. Under the auspices of the joint Panel of Experts on Environmental Management for Vector Control (PEEM), Habitat has also been closely involved in activities related to urban disease vectors, especially those relating to waste. B. Role and initiatives of major groups 15. Many NGOs in developing countries are playing an increasingly important role in development projects, especially in community-based initiatives where communities prioritise their requirements independently. International agencies have recognized that the execution of projects through NGOs has many benefits including cost-effectiveness. UN and non-UN international agencies, should recognize and promote greater NGO involvement in this area. The private sector is also becoming increasingly involved in environmental infrastructure, in part driven by the greening industry. IV. Conclusions and Recommendations for Action Conclusions 16. Waste reduction needs further research on new and indigenous technologies that decrease waste and waste products. A particular area of needed research is in treatment of medical waste, involving the collaboration of UNCHS and WHO. 17. Recycling of liquid wastes presents various alternatives of 'waste to resource' processes. For example, in water-scarce countries, domestic wastewater provides an excellent irrigation potential with extended possibilities for urban poverty alleviation in urban agricultural environment. Expertise from the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) on technical methods for wastewater treatment could combine effectively with FAO's and WHO's expertise on wastewater reuse in agriculture and health aspects respectively. 18. Good interactive data is an essential management tool in dealing with solid waste problems. In this context, the information that exists in the UN system and elsewhere needs to be tapped particularly with the aim of developing indicators that can assist waste producers and handlers to optimize their management systems. 19. Action plans for waste management need to be considered in an integrated manner. For example, the possibilities of implementing separate industrial and domestic wastewater treatment facilities could free more water for irrigation and enable water authorities to keep a tighter control over highly polluting industries. Cooperation with FAO, UNEP and UNIDO in this respect is most important. 20. Legislative updating is also an urgent need given that in many countries waste treatment/disposal standards and practices for waste treatment and disposal tend to be outdated. Cooperation between UNCHS (Habitat) and other UN agencies with programmes in environmental law could help reduce restrictive legal practices and modernize the related environmental standards. 21. Such inter-agency collaboration will require greater exchange of information between the agencies, including through the electronic media. The use of modern information systems are likely to improve project development and strengthen inter-agency projects. Further collaboration is also needed in coordinating activities at the national level to avoid unnecessary duplication. Recommendations 22. Promote increased synergy between the formal and informal sectors. Despite the significant role of the informal sector in solid waste management, there are few attempts to capitalise on this potential. United Nations organisations should assist municipal authorities to recognize and integrate the potentials of the informal sector. 23. Promote greater awareness of environmental and health risks from poor solid waste management. Applied research shows that the methods of waste disposal that have been undertaken for the past decades have caused death and disability to many. Greater awareness of solid waste issues are likely to influence consumption patterns and improve the application of sustainable policies. The increasing content of hazardous components of domestic waste should also be given a higher profile in this respect. 24. Promote the development and use of indigenous technologies. Many developing countries are dependant on imported technologies for infrastructure improvements, including in waste management. This requires high initial capital investment which in turn reduces private investment potentials. At the same time, many of the most appropriate technologies are available locally in forms that can be easily and cheaply adapted to the needs. This points to greater potential for technical cooperation between developing countries, including on a regional and international basis. 25. Focus on strategic programme areas. Programme areas B and D, on promotion of waste recycling and reuse and increasing the service coverage, appear to offer the most promise for the short- term implementation of Agenda 21. This is, in part, due to these areas offering good opportunities for community-based initiatives. The promotion of waste recycling and reuse provides a unique opportunity in waste management; it solves the problem of environmental degradation and has the potential to alleviate urban poverty and generate income amongst the urban poor. This will, however, require supply-side policies aimed at promoting and supporting resource recovery, and demand-side policies aimed at stimulating markets for recovered materials and products. 26. Promote information systems that can accelerate the implementation of Agenda 21. The implementation of Agenda 21 in sustainable development can be improved by a major commitment to improve inter-agency cooperation. One of the main reasons for this uncoordinated approach is the lack of information systems that are responsive and non-restrictive unlike the cases of NGOs, the private sector, the academia and research institutions.
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Date last posted: 1 December 1999 12:18:30