World Bank says trash problem can be solved | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 15.06.2012
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Environment

World Bank says trash problem can be solved

Cities are producing more garbage than ever before and the amount will likely double by 2025. DW spoke with Dan Hoornweg, a leading urban specialist with the World Bank.

The World Bank has released a report warning that there will be a sharp rise in the amount of garbage generated by urban residents between now and 2025. The report, "What a Waste: a global review of solid waste management" details the ways in which cities create, collect, and throw out garbarge. Currently, 1.3 billion tons of municipal solid waste are produced around the world each year. That's expected to nearly double over the next 12 years.

A lot of the new waste is coming from rapidly growing cities in developing countries. But looking west, the report also reveals that city dwellers in Canada and the US are tossing out world record amounts of trash.

DW spoke to Dan Hoornweg, the leading urban specialist in the Finance, Economics, and Urban Development Department of the World Bank.

DW: First of all, what exactly is solid urban waste?

Dan Hoornweg: Solid waste is the stuff that we all throw out, whether it's at home or at work. Solid waste management is the job usually done by municipalities to pick it up and dispose of it.

So when we're talking about urban waste, we aren't talking about waste created by factories, but rather end-user waste, like packaging and retail waste?

Exactly. A little bit of the housekeeping waste in factories is included. Or, the waste in shopping malls.

Piles of food waste

In poor nations, waste tends to be organic

In a summary of the report, the World Bank said that a city that cannot effectively manage its waste is rarely able to manage more complex services such as health, education or transportation. Can you explain why not?

It's almost like a heirarchy of service provision. What cities find is that the first thing they are tasked with is usually solid waste and providing clean water. Those are the two first and foremost jobs of a city. And in some low-income countries' cities, solid waste can take up to 50 percent of a city's budget. So they don't have much money to do anything else. So, the first job of most cities is looking after the waste.

Discarded electronics

When a county gets richer, its garbage contains more plastics and electronics

Which nations are producing the most garbage at the moment?

The two front-runners would be China and the US, simply because they have the biggest populations and biggest economies. Solid waste is basically a by-product of our economies. Per capita, probably Canada and the US take the lead. Then, Europe is below that, and Japan is below that. Then we have the fast-rising Asian countries. China is out there for sure. Then, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines. Then the countries that produce the least amount of waste - particularly per capita - are obviously the lower-income countries. Sub-Saharan Africa... India still has a fairly low per capita waste generation as well.

There was some focus in the report on developing nations and the new waste that they are producing. The report said that a country's waste production changes as the city grows or becomes wealthier. Could you expand on that?

Generally, when you are poor, you buy food. Then you might buy a little more material that is fairly simple, wrapped in paper. As you get a little wealthier, you tend to buy more things in plastic. You get even wealthier, you buy televisions and computers that someday you end up throwing out. So, generally, the richer you are the more waste you generate - and the more complex that waste is.

In a recent interview you said that you are actually feeling optimistic because this information provides us with an opportunity. What opprtunity is provided for us here?

A bulldozer pushes trash into the Chongming landfill near Shanghai, China

China's per capita trash production is rapidly growing

This nice thing about solid waste - if there is a nice thing - is that it isn't rocket science. We know pretty well what needs to be done. The challenge is obviously the willingness to pay, the ability to pay. Solid waste is that one thing that we all produce, whether it's at home or at work, that allows us to see pretty quickly our impact on the environment. By addressing solid waste, in a good and comprehensive manner, we have an enormous upstream benefit for the environment. So, solid waste is that one area where by improving it you actually have an enormous impact on the global environment, local environment. So there is lots that can be done and can be done right away. It's one of those problems that has a solution readily at hand.

Author: Saroja Coelho
Editor: Kate Bowen

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