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Solid waste

Three decades ago, solid waste production was 0.2-0.5 kg/day per capita; it is now about 0.92 kg/day per capita. In 1995, the region's urban population generated 330 000 tonnes of solid waste per day (CELADE 1999, Acurio and others 1997). Buenos Aires, Mexico City and São Paulo alone generate approximately 51 000 tonnes of garbage per day (see figure below right). Although solid waste collection has almost 90 per cent coverage, there is no adequate disposal mechanism for 43 per cent of this waste (PAHO 1998).

The increase in solid waste cannot be explained by urban growth alone. Changes in lifestyle patterns play a major role and waste generation is significantly higher in the more affluent parts of cities. The problem with urban waste is not only the quantity but also the composition, which has changed from dense and almost completely organic to bulky and increasingly non-biodegradable. Increasing amounts of plastic, aluminium, paper and cardboard are being discarded by households and industries. Hazardous waste such as hospital waste, expired drugs, chemicals, batteries and contaminated sludge pose potential risks to human health and the environment alike when handled improperly. Although some countries have a legal framework for waste control, almost all lack the physical infrastructure and human resources necessary to enforce it (UNEP 2000).

Urban population (percentage of total): Latin America and the Caribbean

Graph shows the high levels of urbanization in the region, particularly in South America

Source: compiled from United Nations Population Division 2001

Waste disposal in selected cities (tonnes/year/person)

Collected and uncollected waste in selected cities in Latin America and the Caribbean; however, much of the collected waste is improperly disposed of. Figures in brackets show year of survey

Source: PAHO and IADB 1997