Cities are now facing more rapid population growth, and shares in GDP growth, resulting in a change in income levels, and with that also in urban life style and resource consumption patterns, which, in turn, has increased the volume of municipal waste. In addition, industrialization and economic growth have produced greater quantities of waste and led to new waste streams, including hazardous wastes.
There is a growing understanding among local authorities of the negative impacts that wastes can have on the local environment (air, water, land, human health etc.) and also on climate change. It is also being recognized that valuable habitats and biodiversity are being threatened by improper management of waste. Local authorities also realize that the increasing complexity, costs and coordination for waste management require multi-stakeholder involvement at every stage of the waste management.
However, waste management still remains one of the costliest public services as conventional waste management systems are not well suited to deal with increased waste generation rates and new and special waste streams. In most cases, the revenue from waste management activities is not large enough to compensate for the expenditures.
The World Bank estimates that in developing countries, it is common for municipalities to spend 20 to 50 per cent of their available budget on solid waste management. Services cover, however, only about 40 to 70 per cent of all urban solid wastes, with the remainder being uncollected and less than 50 per cent of the population being served.
The approach to waste management in many developing countries has been rather piecemeal – concentrating on certain aspects of waste management, e.g. collection or disposal. However, in many developing countries, authorities have realized that waste contains valuable components, which can be recovered as materials for recycling and as a resource to generate energy and thus as a substitute for fossil fuels. Waste is being looked at as a resource.
There is a clear need for strategies to redesign conventional waste generation systems in such a way that they can effectively and efficiently handle growing amounts of waste with diversified waste streams. To respond to this need, the work plan for the focal area on integrated solid waste management (ISWM) proposes to promote an integrated approach to solid waste management, which will enable local/ national authorities to reduce the overall amount of waste generated and to recover valuable materials for recycling and for the generation of energy. This has the potential to augment the revenue of waste management activities, which will, in turn, help to compensate the expenditures for solid waste management.
The focal area on integrated solid waste management is led by UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics - International Environmental Technology Centre (DTIE IETC).