As countries’ economies grow, so does the volume of their garbage. According to estimates, some 11.2 billion metric tonnes of solid waste are currently being collected around the world every year, and the decay of the organic portion is contributing around 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). What’s more, rubbish is becoming increasingly complex. The fastest growing waste stream in both developing and developed countries is electrical and electronic products, which contain hazardous substances that make disposal even more of a challenge. Human health and the environment are increasingly at risk, particularly when dumpsites are uncontrolled or volume becomes unmanageable. Illnesses and infections, ground water pollution, GHG emission, and ecosystem destruction are just some of the impacts of our overfilled global dustbin.
Turning the waste stream a brighter shade of green, however, can actually create economic opportunities. Managing waste, from collection to recycling, is a growing market, currently estimated at US$ 410 billion per year, not including the substantial informal segment in developing countries. Recycling, in particular, will grow with a greening of the waste sector, and actually creates more jobs than it replaces. Investment in greener waste management can produce many environmental and economic benefits, including resource savings, nature protection, and employment and business opportunities.
Of course, the best way to manage waste is to produce less of it, and minimizing waste is the first essential step towards greening the sector. The goal is to produce as little waste as possible, recycle or remanufacture as much as possible, and treat any unavoidable waste in a manner that is the least harmful to the environment and humans—or even as a source of sustainable energy.
UNEP’s Sustainable Consumption and Production branch is working on several aspects of the waste puzzle. Other UNEP offices running waste-related projects and programmes include: