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September 20, 2018

What a Waste: An Updated Look into the Future of Solid Waste Management

The Kiteezi landfill near Kampala was expanded as part of the Kampala Institutional Infrastructure Development Project, allowing for the storage and treatment of waste collected in the city. © Sarah Farhat/World Bank

“Waste not, want not.” This old saying rings so true today, as global leaders and local communities alike increasingly call for a fix for the so-called “throwaway culture.” But beyond individuals and households, waste also represents a broader challenge that affects human health and livelihoods, the environment, and prosperity.

And with over 90% of waste openly dumped or burned in low-income countries, it is the poor and most vulnerable who are disproportionately affected.

In recent years, landslides of waste dumps have buried homes and people under piles of waste. And it is the poorest who often live near waste dumps and power their city’s recycling system through waste picking, leaving them susceptible to serious health repercussions.

“Poorly managed waste is contaminating the world’s oceans, clogging drains and causing flooding, transmitting diseases, increasing respiratory problems from burning, harming animals that consume waste unknowingly, and affecting economic development, such as through tourism,” said Sameh Wahba, World Bank Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.

Greenhouse gasses from waste are also a key contributor to climate change.

“Solid waste management is everyone’s business. Ensuring effective and proper solid waste management is critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice.

What a Waste 2.0

While this is a topic that people are aware of, waste generation is increasing at an alarming rate. Countries are rapidly developing without adequate systems in place to manage the changing waste composition of citizens.

According to the World Bank’s What a Waste 2.0 report,

An update to a previous edition, the 2018 report projects that


How much trash is that?

Take plastic waste, which is choking our oceans and making up 90% of marine debris. The water volume of these bottles could fill up 2,400 Olympic stadiums, 4.8 million Olympic-size swimming pools, or 40 billion bathtubs. This is also the weight of 3.4 million adult blue whales or 1,376 Empire State Buildings combined.

And that’s just 12% of the total waste generated each year.

In addition to global trends, What a Waste 2.0 maps out the state of solid waste management in each region. For example, the  And although they only account for 16% of the world’s population,

Because waste generation is expected to rise with economic development and population growth, lower middle-income countries are likely to experience the greatest growth in waste production. The fastest growing regions are Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where total waste generation is expected to triple than double by 2050, respectively, making up 35% of the world’s waste. The Middle East and North Africa region is also expected to double waste generation by 2050.

Upper-middle and high-income countries provide nearly universal waste collection, and more than one-third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting. Low-income countries collect about 48% of waste in cities, but only 26% in rural areas, and only 4% is recycled. Overall, 13.5% of global waste is recycled and 5.5% is composted.


To view the full infographic, click here

Toward sustainable solid waste management

“Environmentally sound waste management touches so many critical aspects of development,” said Silpa Kaza, World Bank Urban Development Specialist and lead author of the What a Waste 2.0 report. “Yet, solid waste management is often an overlooked issue when it comes to planning sustainable, healthy, and inclusive cities and communities. Governments must take urgent action to address waste management for their people and the planet.”

Moving toward sustainable waste management requires lasting efforts and a significant cost.

Is it worth the cost?

Yes. Research suggests that it does make economic sense to invest in sustainable waste management. Uncollected waste and poorly disposed waste have significant health and environmental impacts. The cost of addressing these impacts is many times higher than the cost of developing and operating simple, adequate waste management systems.

To help meet the demand for financing, the World Bank is working with countries, cities, and partners worldwide to create and finance effective solutions that can lead to gains in environmental, social, and human capital.

, such as the following initiatives and areas of engagement.

"Solid waste management is everyone’s business. Ensuring effective and proper solid waste management is critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals."
Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez
Senior Director of the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice of the World Bank


Financing waste management

Given the overwhelming cost, financing solid waste management systems is repeatedly a significant challenge. The World Bank’s investments have stepped up to help countries meet that demand.

In Azerbaijan, World Bank loans supported the rehabilitation of the main landfill site and establishment of a state-owned waste management company, increasing the population served by the formal solid waste management system from 53% in 2008 to 74% in 2012. Support also led to further sustainable waste management practices, helping achieve a 25% recycling and reuse rate.

In China, a results-based incentive program has motivated household kitchen waste separation. The $80 million loan has also supported the construction of a modern anaerobic digestion facility to ferment and recover energy from organic waste, which will benefit 3 million people.

In Nepal, a results-based financing project of $4.3 million increased user fee collection and improved waste collection services in five municipalities, benefitting 800,000 residents.

Reducing carbon, enhancing resilience

Without improvements in the sector, solid waste related emissions will likely increase to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2050.


Scavengers burning trash at the Tondo Garbage Dump in Manila, Philippines. © Adam Cohn/Flickr Creative Commons

In Pakistan, a $5.5 million dollar project supported a composting facility in Lahore in market development and the sale of emission reduction credits under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Activities resulted in reductions of 150,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent and expansion of daily compost production volume from 300 to 1,000 tonnes per day.

In Vietnam, investments in solid waste management are helping the city of Can Tho prevent clogging of drains, which could result in flooding. Similarly, in the Philippines, investments are helping Metro Manila reduce flood risk by minimizing solid waste ending up in waterways. By focusing on improved collection systems, community-based approaches, and providing incentives, the waste management investments are contributing to reducing marine litter, particularly in Manila Bay.

Leaving no one behind

But the reality for more than 15 million informal waste pickers in the world – typically women, children, the elderly, the unemployed, or migrants – remains one with unhealthy conditions, a lack of social security or health insurance, and persisting social stigma.

In the West Bank, for example, World Bank loans have supported the construction of three landfill sites that serve over two million residents, enabled dump closure, developed sustainable livelihood programs for waste pickers, and linked payments to better service delivery through results-based financing.

A focus on data, planning, and integrated waste management

Understanding how much and where waste is generated – as well as the types of waste being generated – allows local governments to realistically allocate budget and land, assess relevant technologies, and consider strategic partners for service provision, such as the private sector or non-governmental organizations.

Solutions include:

  • Providing financing to countries most in need, especially the fastest growing countries, to develop state-of-the-art waste management systems. 
  • Supporting major waste producing countries to reduce consumption of plastics and marine litter through comprehensive waste reduction and recycling programs. 
  • Reducing food waste through consumer education, organics management, and coordinated food waste management programs.

No time to waste

If no action is taken, the world will be on a dangerous path to more waste and overwhelming pollution. Lives, livelihoods, and the environment would pay an even higher price than they are today.

Many solutions already exist to reverse that trend. What is needed is urgent action at all levels of society.

The time for action is now.


Click here to access the full dataset and download the report What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050.

What a Waste 2.0 was funded by the government of Japan through the World Bank’s Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC).