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BRIEF

Solid Waste Management

December 21, 2013

Ask a mayor of a developing country city about his or her most pressing problems, and solid waste management generally will be high on the list. For many cities, solid waste management is their single largest budget item and largest employer. 

It is also a critical matter of public health, environmental quality, quality of life, and economic development. A city that cannot effectively manage its waste is rarely able to manage more complex services such as health, education or transportation. And no one wants to live in a city surrounded by garbage.

As the world urbanizes, the situation is becoming more acute. More people mean more garbage, especially in fast-growing cities where the bulk of waste is generated. In our seminal report What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, we estimate that cities currently generate roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year; with current urbanization trends, this figure will grow to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025 – an increase of 70 percent.

Managing waste will also become more expensive. Expenditures that today total $205 billion will grow to $375 billion. The cost impacts will be most severe in low income countries already struggling to meet basic social and infrastructure needs, particularly for their poorest residents. In a follow-up analysis, two authors of that study forecast that global waste production would not peak until the next century without transformational changes in the use and reuse of materials, and that it would triple by 2100.

Because it is such a major issue, waste management also represents a great opportunity for cities. Managed well, solid waste management practices can reduce greenhouse gas emission levels in a city, including short-lived climate pollutants that are far more potent than carbon dioxide. A city’s ability to keep solid waste out of drainage ditches can also influence whether a neighborhood floods after a heavy storm. 

The World Bank's solid waste program supports local government agencies, communities and other entities responsible for removing and managing waste materials in a safe, environmentally sound, and cost effective manner. 

Bank experts provide guidance on how to design the best possible waste management system given limited resources, including strategies to ‘make the polluter pay’ and help cover the cost of the program.  Our researchers track waste generation levels and expenditures by local authorities, helping mayors benchmark their solid waste programs against other cities. 

In order to spur economic development, World Bank projects explore how to use waste materials as the basis for job creation for low skilled individuals. Our teams also help build markets for activities that transform discarded materials into valuable commodities. 

Examples of projects include: