Chapter 3 - The Culture of Waste

Part 2 - Solid Waste Management in the Developed and Developing World

bulldozer on a municipal waste landfill pileToday, countries worldwide face a waste management crisis ― an estimated twelve point three billion tons of municipal solid waste were collected worldwide in 2011 ― the increasing quantity and complexity of waste associated with economic growth, industrialization, and urbanization poses serious problems, especially for developing countries. The rate of municipal solid waste generation is faster than that of urban population growth due to increasing consumption ― the demand for goods and services is driving production — especially products that are packaged and have short life-spans, resulting in waste and even more consumption. While product consumption benefits some businesses, the paradigm of boundless consumption as we are currently experiencing it, needs to change, since the waste produced is growing world problem with dramatic social and environmental impacts.

Waste disposal can have serious environmental impacts ― landfills are reaching capacity, consuming dwindling land space, and cause air, water and soil pollution including the emission of about five per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while incineration results in emissions of dangerous air pollutants. Improper, ineffective, and inefficient waste management negatively impacts health and the environment — resulting in pollution of the air, land and water, emission of greenhouse gases and toxic materials, and the loss of precious materials and resources. Waste streams from electronic equipment or e-waste, which contain hazardous materials, pose one of the biggest management challenges in both developed and developing countries. Such mixed municipal solid wastes, as well as hazardous wastes and some industrial wastes can impose serious health and ecological risks if uncollected or dumped in uncontrolled and unsecured landfill sites.

Solid waste management practices include waste prevention and re-use, waste collection, transport, and sorting, waste recycling and composting, waste treatment by incineration or chemical and biological processes, energy recovery, and waste disposal in landfills.


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  • waste
  • trash
  • refuse
  • rubbish
  • Integrated Solid Waste Management
  • landfill
  • waste picker
  • landfill leachate
  • landfill gas
  • solid waste
  • waste prevention
  • waste reduction
  • reuse
  • recycling
  • composting
  • incineration, with or without energy production
  • landfill methane

Suggested Reading

  1. United Nations Environment Programme. Developing Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan Volume 1: Waste Characterization and Quantification with Projections for Future. United Nations. 2009.
  2. World Bank Urban Development Division Waste Management Anchor Team. Observations of Solid Waste Landfills in Developing Countries: Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Washington (DC): The World Bank. 1999.
  3. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Solid Waste Management: A Local Challenge With Global Impacts. May 2002. EPA Pub. No.:  530-F-02-026d.

  4. US Environmental Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste. Municipal Solid Waste in the United States 2009: Facts and Figures. 2010 Dec.

(Photo credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider)