Current situation and trends

Background of the GPWM

Population growth, urbanization and economic development have resulted in changing resource consumption patterns and led to a rapid increase in waste volumes and types of wastes. Per capita waste generation rates in many developing countries have now crossed the one kilogram per day mark. The average waste generation per capita per day in OECD countries is 2.2 kilograms. With the majority of the world's population now urbanized, municipal solid waste generation rates are likely to increase further, particularly in developing countries, where more and more people are migrating from rural areas to cities.

In addition to the growing rates in municipal solid waste generation, volumes of other types of wastes are also increasing in many developing countries. For example, industrial waste generation rates are high in developing countries, because most of the industries are primary industries and are run by small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) that often lack the technologies and capacities to integrate recycling into the production process.

Besides an increase in the quantities of waste, the quality of the waste has been changing significantly over the past decades. In particular, new hazardous and special waste streams have emerged as a result of industrialization and technological progress, e.g. e-waste and health care waste.

The need for new strategies

Global Partnership on Waste Management meeting

As a result of these trends, existing waste management systems are often overburdened with increasing quantities and the changing composition of the waste. Public waste systems in cities cannot keep pace with fast proceeding urbanization; rapid industrialization is happening in countries that have not yet developed the appropriate systems to deal with hazardous and special wastes; and trade of wastes and resources is growing and poses significant challenges to current waste management systems, as the data gathered by the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal shows.

According to the World Bank, in developing countries, it is common for municipalities to spend 20 to 50 percent of their available recurrent budget on solid waste management, while 30 to 60 percent of all the urban solid waste remains uncollected and less than 50 percent of the population is served. Hence waste management is a very complex and cost-intensive service, which binds large parts of the municipal budget if it is not organized and operated properly.

Improper waste management practices can impede the provision of basic necessities for public health such as clean water, clean air and safe food. Poor waste collection can, for example, lead to the spread of vector-borne diseases. Improperly disposed waste, e.g. hazardous waste indiscriminately mixed with other wastes, can be extremely harmful for workers in the waste sector, adjacent communities, and the environment.

In addition to soil and water contamination caused by leachate and air pollution from burning of waste that is not properly collected and disposed, inappropriate waste management also contributes to climate change and will diminish the availability of natural resources. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) estimates that methane from landfills represents 12 percent of total global methane emissions. Yet, inefficient waste management and a lack of prevention, recycling and recovery not only leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions, but also aggravates the loss of valuable resources and a further depletion of virgin materials.

Besides having serious economic and environmental and health implications, unsound waste management also has a social dimension. Like most environmental hazards, deficiencies in waste management also disproportionately affect poorer communities more as wastes are often dumped in land adjacent to slums. As waste is often considered as a source of income for waste pickers, exposure to hazardous substances in improperly separated wastes such as lead, mercury and infectious agents from healthcare facilities and crude practices to recover valuable materials, e.g. from e-waste, setting free dioxins and other harmful emissions, have heavy impacts on the health of workers in the informal waste sector and further contribute to air, land and water contamination.

The World Bank estimates that at least 1 to 2 per cent of the world urban population are waste pickers. As waste pickers are not accounted for in official labour statistics in most countries and are therefore largely invisible, the actual number might be much higher. A significant number of workers in the informal waste sector are women, and some are children. For many people in developing countries, especially those with limited education or opportunity, waste picking offers a livelihood. Hence, inadequate waste management is of particular concern as it relates to the well being of women and children.

The waste sector, with all its complexities, has a lot of potential to be organized in a way that is more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. Proper waste management can facilitate the recovery and reuse of valuable resources and a corresponding reduction in the depletion of virgin materials; improved waste management approaches can generate “green economic growth” through the creation of new business and employment opportunities, including for the informal waste sector, and efficiencies for existing businesses and local authorities; climate change mitigation objectives can be pursued through reduced emissions of greenhouse gases from waste management operations, such as landfills; and conversion of waste to energy can ease pressure on non-renewable sources of energy.

The need to improve waste management has been taken up as a priority issue by international organizations, and various stakeholders are already engaged in building capacity on waste management all over the world. However, to date, development interventions in the area of waste management have followed a rather sectoral approach. With so many projects already being undertaken, it is often not easy to know who is doing what, what has already been done, what needs to be done, and who could be a potential partner to join forces with in a prospective project. Hence, there is a clear need to coordinate efforts and jointly embrace the need for improved waste management in a systematic way.

Addressing the needs: The launch of the GPWM

Global Partnership on Waste Management Meeting

To provide a holistic and systematic approach to waste management, UNEP launched the Global Partnership on Waste Management (GPWM) in 2010 to establish a coordinating forum for international organizations, Governments, private sector, civil society and other stakeholders. The GPWM aims to increase cooperation among stakeholders and build synergies, thereby assisting in avoiding duplication of efforts, providing coherent international policy and technical advice, complementing the already existing work, and improving the efficiency of resources and efforts required to address the challenging issue of waste management.  

The GPWM supports UNEP's Governing Council decision 25/8 on waste management asking for integrated and holistic efforts on waste management. Decision 25/8 reflects the increased demand from countries for more support on waste management and a shift in approach on waste management practices.

The launch of the GPWM in 2010 was preceded by a consultative process, involving Governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders. At these consultation meetings, the GPWM Framework document outlining the institutional arrangements and operational guidelines for the GPWM was discussed.  

During its 26th regular session in February 2011, UNEP’s Governing Council adopted decision 26/3 on Chemicals and Waste Management, again indicating support for coordinated actions on waste management. The decision recognizes in particular the need to take into consideration countries’ differing circumstances, developmental priorities and capacities (technical and financial) while stressing the need for international organizations to undertake enhanced, sharper focused, better coordinated actions to fill current gaps in support of waste management initiatives of developing countries. Moreover, decision 26/3 calls for coherence, promotion of synergies and avoidance of duplication of activities, with a focus on integrated waste management and related areas including electrical and electronic waste, waste agricultural biomass and urban waste based on the 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) approach. The decision also takes note of the launching of the GPWM and asks for further consultations.

A frequent suggestion from previous consultations, captured in Decision 26/3’s reference to countries’ differing circumstances, was that the GPWM be considered a dynamic framework, continually evolving, incorporating on-the-ground experiences, by way of lessons learned and best practices, in order to reflect the changing needs of potential partners and stakeholders over time.