In the Developing World, Waste Can Be a Vital Resource


Rapid urbanization has burdened cities with an issue that no one can ignore — unprecedented amounts of trash. World cities generate a whopping 1.3 billion tons of waste per year — an issue that will only get worse unless strategic steps are taken.

This September, world leaders will gather in New York to formally adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an important 15-year agenda to prioritize and address problems affecting rich and poor countries more holistically than its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Given the extent of global waste and the projected increase in the world population, waste management is present in several of the new SDGs — in both focused and tangential ways that show how humankind’s massive waste is linked to poverty, gender inequality and job creation. The SDGs make it clear that the value of waste picking is not to be squandered.

Under the umbrella aim to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns,” SDG 12 captures how the world should approach waste management, including recycling. In many developing countries, waste pickers are the key economic actors whose work feeds the recycling market with materials that would otherwise be dumped, especially in a context where waste segregation is not part of the culture. Recycling is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and informal waste pickers are champions in recycling. A 2007 study found that waste pickers recovered approximately 20 percent of all waste material in three of six cities studied. Their work thus contributes to environmental sustainability. In some countries, informal workers supply the only waste collection available. Despite saving us from living amongst garbage, these workers are seldom recognized by municipalities.

Developing promising solutions to waste can produce significant progress in achieving many SDG targets — from environmental —> Read More