United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

                               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

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

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

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


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


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

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
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD