Posted in Urban Issues

What a Waste

What a Waste 2.0 – A global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, is one of those comprehensive and well-researched reports which only an organization with the expertise and global reach of the World Bank could produce.

Taking an overview of every aspect of waste management first globally, then region by region, this report can inform many a local SWM policy paper or augment a scholarly thesis.

I shall simply repeat some of its key observations, so that a hitherto neglected aspect of urban governance viz. solid waste management, is adequately covered on this blog.

Waste Composition

Composition of waste changes with time and technology and naturally, the waste of our times reflects the wants of our times:

Waste Generation

The world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, with at least a third of that not managed in an environmentally safe manner. Worldwide, waste generated per person per day averages 0.74 kilogram but ranges widely, from 0.11 to 4.54 kilograms. Though they only account for 16% of the world’s population, high-income countries generate about 34% of the world’s waste. When looking forward, global waste is expected to grow to 3.40  billion tonnes by 2050.

Waste Collection

The most common form of waste collection is door-to-door. In this model, trucks or small vehicles are used to pick up garbage outside of households at a predetermined frequency. In certain localities, communities may dispose of waste in a central container or collection point where it is picked up by the municipality and transported to final disposal sites. In lower-middle-income countries like India, collection rates are about 51%. Improvement of waste collection services is a critical step to reduce pollution and thereby to improve human health and longevity.

Waste Disposal

Around the world, almost 40% of waste is disposed of in landfills. About 19% undergoes materials recovery through recycling and composting, and 11% is treated through modern incineration, while the remaining is openly dumped. Waste disposal practices vary significantly by income level and region, and as nations prosper economically, waste is managed using more sustainable methods. Construction and use of landfills is commonly the first step toward sustainable waste management.

The darker side of waste disposal is that richer countries often export their electronic waste to poorer countries and this e-waste contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants. Once in a landfill, these toxic materials seep out into the environment, contaminating land, water and the air, and harming the local community . In addition, devices are often dismantled in primitive conditions, and those who work at these sites suffer frequent bouts of illness, and long-term diseases.

Key Insights about South Asia

The South Asia region, where India is the largest country, generated 334 million tonnes of waste in 2016, at an average of 0 .52 kilogram per capita daily, with 57% characterized as food and green waste. About 44% of waste is collected in South Asia, mainly through door-to-door systems, and three-fourths of waste is currently openly dumped, although improvements to collection systems and construction of sanitary final disposal sites are underway.

Financing and Cost Recovery across the World

  • According to the Report, basic solid waste management systems covering collection, transport, and sanitary disposal in low-income countries cost $35 per tonne at a minimum and often much more.
  • Solid waste management is a large expenditure item for cities and typically comprises nearly 20 percent of municipal budgets in low-income countries, more than 10 percent in middle-income countries, and 4 percent in high-income  countries. Budgets can be much higher in certain  cases.
  • Systems that include more advanced approaches for waste treatment and recycling cost more, from $50 to $100 per tonne or  more. The choice of waste management methodology and technology depends highly on the local context and capacity for investments and ongoing management.
  • User fees range from an average of $35 per year in low-income countries to $170 per year in high-income countries. Full cost recovery from user fees is largely limited to high-income countries. Almost all low-income countries, and a limited number of high-income countries, such as the Republic of Korea and Japan, subsidize domestic waste management from national or local budgets.
  • Although public-private partnerships could potentially reduce the burden on local government budgets, they could result in compromises in service quality when not structured and managed properly.
  • Local governments provide about 50 percent of investments for waste services, and the remainder is typically provided through national government subsidies and the private sector.
  • When political support for increasing user fees for households to cost recovery levels is limited, cross-subsidizing from payments by waste generators (for  example, the commercial sector) can help reduce the burden on local government  budgets. Commercial fees range from about $150 per year in low-income countries to $300 in high-income  countries.
  • Volume-based waste fees have been successful in countries like Austria, Korea, and the Netherlands but are still uncommon because they require coordinated planning and strong  enforcement. Households and commercial institutions in low-income countries are typically charged a flat fee that is collected on a door-to-door basis.

Results based financing

The Report makes the following recommendations:

  • Increase fee collection, such as by matching a portion of the fees collected by the managing institution
  • Promote source separation, waste reduction, and recycling, such as by providing a stipend to neighborhoods that sort and separate an adequate quantity of clean recyclables
  • Strengthen waste collection and transportation, such as by paying waste collectors upon successful and timely delivery of waste to the final disposal site
  • Design efficient infrastructure projects, such as by making loans or grants for a new landfill project contingent on successful construction of various phases
  • Defray risk for investors and increase investments, such as by delaying payments until proof of service success or completion of infrastructure


I am a trainer of Government Officials and Elected Representatives, specializing in the urban and municipal sector. I have also written extensively on Urban Governance, Poverty, Development, Social Accountability and Municipal Management in the Indian context, and wish to share these writings with you through this blog.

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