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The environmental objective of the waste management sector is first of all to ensure pollution control, preventing the diffusion of waste related pollution into soil and water, as well as the emission of GHGs into the atmosphere. This, in turn, protects and improves the environment, human health, nature and public spaces and further mitigates the risks of climate change. Second, the waste management sector should seek to reduce landfilling while promoting value extraction, resource efficiency and a circular economy.

Pollution control (stage 1) can be achieved by ensuring proper collection and delivery of waste, to be disposed of at sanitary landfills, and further by the closure and decontamination of informal and non-compliant dumpsites. The reduction of landfilling and the promotion of value capture or resource efficiency can be realised by moving up the so-called waste hierarchy, either through energy recovery (stage 2), recycling (3), reuse (4) or the reduction (5) of generated waste.

While the objectives may be clear, the waste sector is complex from a technical perspective, with multiple steps and processes required to take place for different waste streams in a carefully integrated manner. The sector is also complex from a policy perspective. Multiple formal and informal stakeholders and multiple laws seek to regulate, influence and operate within the sector. Regulations include, among others, the application of land, air and water pollution directives as well as the obligations of national, regional and municipal authorities. Other factors include land planning and the obligations and rights of commercial and residential entities. The sector also relies heavily on the behaviour and buy-in of the public.

Poor waste management has been a widespread problem in most of the economies where the EBRD invests. Substandard planning, inadequate funding and limited know-how have led to poor performance and low environmental standards. Not only have poor planning and inadequate funding prevented the necessary investments and services from taking place, inadequate and unpredictable funding has also weakened accountability among the various operators and authorities in the sector. For example, an underpaid waste collection company will ‘understandably’ cut down on the collection frequency or coverage and thus not provide the agreed service level, making plans and targets less meaningful. Lastly, poor waste management services lead to a poor waste management culture and may hamper buy-in from residents and the relevant public and private institutions.

When seeking to improve the waste management sector, it is important to keep in mind that effective waste management is expensive, often comprising 20-50 per cent of municipal budgets.[1] Overall, it is not a profitable sector even after taking into account revenues from the sale of recyclables, refuse-derived fuels or energy. Therefore, adequate funding for both investments and operations must be in place at all times while improving the performance of the sector. In addition, due to the complexity of the sector, changes should be introduced incrementally, without oversized interventions, in line with the administrative capacity and with public support and willingness to contribute to an improved waste management system.

To help address the pollution challenges and gradually move up the waste hierarchy requires multiple technical and policy-related solutions – including policies that target good planning, adequate funding, effective accountability and effective change in attitudes among residents, businesses and public authorities. Some of the main policy options or building blocks are presented, covering initiatives (i) to ensure effective governance and buy-in from various stakeholders and (ii) to move up the waste hierarchy.

References

[1] World Bank (2019), “Solid Waste Management”, Brief, September 2019.