At ISWA’s 2015 World Congress in the City of Antwerp, UNEP and ISWA presented "Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO)". A comprehensive report that covers the global challenges of the waste management sector for the next decade. Surrounded by 1400 politicians and decision makers in the industry, I listened to David C. Wilson, Editor in Chief of the report, when he was going over the key results of the two year study. And some of the facts of the global waste management situation shocked me. But the good news is that ICT solutions and ‘big data’ are a key driver to take global waste management to the next level!
Here in Western Europe, we are pushing to transform our waste management strategy from a linear to a circular economy. While we tend to look at the industry here as a market where operational excellence seems to be the only way to survive the aggressive competition of waste collection companies, Wilson said that 2 billion people on our planet, do not have currently access to solid waste collection at all. 2 billion! That is 27% of the world population. And with the world population latest estimates to grow to 11 billion people and a further consolidation of people moving into the cities, you do not have to be a professor to understand the seriousness of the global waste management challenges.
Another shocking fact for me was to learn that solid waste management is accounted for 3% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With most of that attributable to methane emissions from landfill sites. The good news is that the potential positive impact of improved waste management on reducing GHG emissions across the economy will be around 15-20%.
David Newman, President of the International Solid Waste Association, reflected a few hours later on the report. He said that bringing advanced technologies, such as Waste to Energy plants, to the developing countries, is not the real challenge. The real challenge is how to finance those projects. Who picks up the bill for a cleaner planet? Economy of scale is necessary to lower the costs for technologies and (EU) funding opportunities may be an enabler to help develop the waste management industry on a global scale.
A major focus of the GWMO is on the ‘governance’ factor required to make waste management happen in practice. A ‘toolkit’ has been developed to help select a suitable set of actions. The aim is to facilitate taking the next appropriate steps in developing (your own) specific waste management system at the national or local level.
A "data revolution" is an essential gear wheel of the ‘toolkit’ that was developed to facilitate taking the next appropriate steps in developing specific waste management system at the national or local level. On a global scale, the industry is currently lacking the availability and reliability of waste and resource management data. And the cliché "You cannot manage what you cannot measure" has never been more applicable to the waste industry.
Data and performance indicators are vital to drive the change towards a more sustainable waste management industry. Therefore, the industry must work towards a system where a city’s municipal solid waste management system can be benchmarked against other city’s using indicators and highlight areas for improvement. And this information must be publically accessible, online, to drive the awareness around waste disposal behaviour.
Being in the ICT industry focusing on solutions for the waste industry for almost 20 years now, this raised the question about how to make ICT systems for waste collection and treatment affordable and available to all countries including the underdeveloped countries and emerging economies.
During my time at ISWA 2015, I had the opportunity to talk to many waste managers and policy makers of underdeveloped countries in Africa, Asia and South America. All of them are working hard on defining and implementing policies including a governance structure to improve the waste management systems locally. Having a cloud solution for waste collection, recycling and material resource trading, we have a system that can collect the data and present the performance indicators that are necessary to drive the waste revolution. It is not so hard to make our systems available to any country provided that it has access to the internet. Although I realize that this last constraint will still leave a fair part of the industry out of reach. Although I realize that this last constraint will still leave a fair part of the industry out of reach.
Would the western society, IT vendors and waste companies in the developed countries, be willing to pay a small extra amount on top of the subscription fees of their own ICT system? Should this be a voluntary contribution or should we consider introducing a ‘technology tax’ that we can use to subsidise countries who cannot afford western technology? Anyhow, I will continue to work on a ‘fair trade’ program for my business in order to do something about those shocking figures of 2 billion people without access to basic waste collection services.
Read the full GWMO report! downloads below