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FEATURE STORY November 11, 2019

Tackling solid waste management and marine plastics in Kitakyushu

People discussing at the table

Story highlights

  • Tokyo Development Learning Center hosted a Technical Deep Dive on solid waste management, with an emphasis on a subject of growing global concern — plastic waste accumulation in the world’s oceans.
  • The program included a visit to the city of Kitakyushu, which offers a model for environmental solutions and effective management of recyclables.
  • Actionable strategies presented during the week included ways to engage citizens at home to strengthen local initiatives.

November 11-15, 2019

Key challenges in solid waste management

Every city is different when it comes to solid waste generation and management, in terms of waste composition, governance structure, and budget; however, there are common challenges relating to governance, holistic planning and policy, sustainable financing, technology selection, integration of informal workers, and engagement with citizens and the private sector.

In response to these shared concerns, Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC), in collaboration with partner city Kitakyushu, organized a Technical Deep Dive (TDD) on the topic of solid waste management. The program, held Nov. 11–15, 2019, brought together practitioners, technical experts, and government representatives from 13 countries (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Romania, Turkey, Albania, Colombia, Tunisia, Bangladesh, and India).

The TDD addressed the entire value chain of solid waste management; however, emphasis was placed on the problem of plastic waste and its accumulation in ocean environments. TDLC and the city of Kitakyushu also jointly organized the International Symposium on Marine Litter and Ocean Plastic, which TDD participants attended.

Learning from Japan’s experience: infrastructure, governance and funding

In Japan, there is a fairly clear demarcation between the national, prefectural, and municipal (city, town, village) governments in dealing with solid waste issues. The national government is responsible for basic policies, management, facility standards, and emergency measures; prefectural governments typically permit and supervise waste management facilities; and municipal governments set and execute general waste management plans and manage subcontractors that work on the collection and disposal of solid waste.

A worker compressing empty cans at Hiagari Recycling Center for Waste Cans and Bottles. Photo: World Bank Group

Integrated solid waste management requires investments in infrastructure development and operation. In the case of Japan, the national government provides a subsidy for capital expenditure, but municipal governments cover more than 60% of the total costs. To raise funds, many municipal governments have started charging residents for refuse collection by selling designated bags for garbage disposal.

Among those joining the TDD from Japan to share their expertise were representatives from the Ministry of Environment, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. A key takeaway from Japan’s experience managing solid waste is the importance of establishing a synergistic relationship between regulation, technology, and financial support to ensure proper management at a local government level.

"To tackle the issues of solid waste, we have to work together across all sectors to begin to address the problem — from upstream production, design, and consumption, to post-consumer waste product management."
Catalina Marulanda
Practice Manager, World Bank

Kitakyushu: a leader in recycling

The TDD included a three-day visit to Kitakyushu to learn about the city’s environmental initiatives. Kitakyushu collaborates with over 25 private companies, universities, and research institutes in the environmental field. For the management of solid waste, the city collaborates with local stakeholders — including residents, business operators, nonprofit organizations, and various administrative units — forming what can be called the material-cycle society.

Site visit to the Kitakyushu plastic recycling center. Photo: World Bank Group

TDD participants visited Kitakyushu Eco-Town, an industrial complex founded in 1997 on the twin goals of environmental conservation and industrial promotion, to learn how discarded cell phones, clothes, and PET bottles can be transformed into energy sources or new products, such as sportswear, plastic trays, and school bags. They also visited the Hiagari recycling center, which handles cans and bottles, and the Kitakyushu plastic recycling renter to witness firsthand how the city collects and treats recyclable wastes.

Take-home strategies that start in the home

At the conclusion of the program, participants presented action plans for tackling solid waste management in their home countries, drawing from insights gained during the program. A key takeaway was the importance of involving citizens in the process: effective waste management begins at home. The municipal government should offer learning opportunities for citizens (especially schoolchildren) to understand the 3R principles (reduce, reuse, and recycle) and the importance of waste separation at home.

Moreover, national and municipal governments can build on and improve existing solid waste management systems by collaborating with the private sector and informal recyclers. To facilitate collaboration, the government needs to offer both financial and nonfinancial incentives (health services, training opportunities, and social empowerment, for example).

Technical Deep Dive (TDD) is a cohort-based, knowledge acceleration program and the signature project of the Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC). Each week-long session examines an issue pertinent to cities via expert panels, site visits, and peer exchanges, drawing on global and Japanese best practices to generate actionable solutions that can be applied to World Bank projects in developing countries.