UN calls on countries to turn municipal waste materials into wealth
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08 April 2024 Author :   Isaiah Esipisu
Dandora dumpsite in Kenya's capital, Nairobi


NAIROBI, Kenya (PAMACC News) - When Dr Leah Tsuma, the founder Asticom Limited succumbed to cancer in August 2021, her idea of converting municipal waste from Kibera slum into some 10 mega watts of electricity seemed to have died too. But, three years down the line, the dream has become a global topic, with scientists calling on the world to start turning rubbish into resources.                                                                                                      

During the 2024 United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report offering assessment of global waste management and an analysis of data concerning municipal solid waste management worldwide.

“Waste generation is intrinsically tied to GDP, and many fast-growing economies are struggling under the burden of rapid waste growth,” observed Inger Andersen, the Executive Director at UNEP.

Generally, municipal waste is generated wherever there are human settlements. It is influenced by each person in the world, with every purchasing decision, through daily practices and in the choices made about managing waste in the home. According to the report, the world generates two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste every year.

One study shows that between 400,000 and one million people, most of them in developing countries die every year as a result of diseases related to mismanaged waste that includes diarrhoea, malaria, heart disease and different types of cancer.

On biodiversity, scientists have pointed out that indiscriminate waste disposal practices can introduce hazardous chemicals into soil, water bodies and the air, causing long-term, potentially irreversible damage to local flora and fauna, negatively impacting biodiversity, harming entire ecosystems, and entering the human food chain.

On the climate change front, a different report by UNEP shows that methane, which is a greenhouse gas is released from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills and dumpsites thereby directly contributing global warming.

And now, the new report finds that getting waste under control by taking waste prevention and management measures could limit net annual costs by 2050 to USD 270.2 billion.

However, projections, according to the report show that a circular economy model, where waste generation and economic growth are decoupled by adopting waste avoidance, sustainable business practices, and full waste management, could in fact lead to a full net gain of USD 108.5 billion per year.

“By identifying actionable steps to a more resourceful future and emphasizing the pivotal role of decision-makers in the public and private sectors to move towards zero waste, this (report) can support governments seeking to prevent missed opportunities to create more sustainable societies and to secure a liveable planet for future generations,” said Andersen.

According to Zoë Lenkiewicz, the lead author of the report, the findings demonstrate that the world urgently needs to shift to a zero waste approach, while improving waste management to prevent significant pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and negative impacts to human health.

“Pollution from waste knows no borders, so it is in everyone’s interests to commit to waste prevention and invest in waste management where it is lacking. The solutions are available and ready to be scaled up. What is needed now is strong leadership to set the direction and pace required, and to ensure no one is left behind,” said Lenkiewicz.

The scientists are therefore calling on counties to adopt the circular Economy scenario, which has a net-positive effect on greenhouse gas emissions and human health, and reduces significantly the negative impact on ecosystem quality.

In his speech at UNEA’s high level segment, President William Ruto said that such efforts in shared resources such as oceans will call for international collaboration.

“International collaboration is crucial in promoting the adoption of the "reduce, reuse, and recycle" life cycle approaches to waste that are vital for sustaining the blue economy and its ecosystems,” said Ruto. “We are (currently) implementing the Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan to shift waste management to a circular economy,” he added.

So far, according to Eath.org, Germany has been celebrated as a world leader in recycling of municipal waste, thus becoming the benchmark for other countries when it comes to implementation of greener practices of waste disposal.

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