Introduction to the Waste Management Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean

The Waste Management Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean was launched in Buenos Aires at the end of 2018. It was elaborated by mandate of the Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean and the United Nations Assembly on Environment. Atilio Savino, Regional Development Network Representative for the Latin America Region, and Chief Editor & Author of the Report, introduces the key points discussed in the publication.

18 Mar 2019 -

The report follows the Global Waste Management Outlook (UNEP/ISWA, 2015) which provides a pioneering scientific global assessment on the state of waste management and a call to action to the international community. It establishes the rationale and the tools for taking a holistic approach towards waste management and recognizing waste and resource management as a significant contributor to sustainable development and climate change mitigation.


Global phenomena such as population growth, the increasing trend towards urbanisation (80% in Latin America and the Caribbean), economic growth, a significant amount of people lifting out of poverty and joining an emerging middle class, and clearly unsustainable consumption and production patterns linked to linear economics, are some of the drivers leading to the persistent increase of waste generation in the region.


Based on the information gathered, it is estimated that in 2014 the generation of municipal waste in Latin America and the Caribbean was 541,000 tons/day. Under the current generation rate (regional average of 1.04 Kg/inhabitant-day), by the year 2050, this figure could reach 671,000 tons/day.


The study also reveals the direct relation between per capita income and waste generation, which suggests that increase in the latter could be possibly higher.


Countries in the region show a quantitative and qualitative improvement in the collection of generated waste, covering 93% of the population, being the municipal direct service the most common modality of service. Coverage may significantly vary between countries in the region and according to the size of cities.


Nevertheless, on a regional level, over 35,000 tons per day remain uncollected, which has an impact on more than 40 million people (7%). This affects the population in marginal areas – usually impoverished– and some rural areas.


To overcome these deficiencies, a 100% collection rate must be reached in all generated waste streams, both in rural and urban areas.


Although proper final disposal of solid waste has significantly improved over the past decades in Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 145,000 ton/day end up in dumpsites, are burned or are otherwise inadequately disposed of. This is equivalent to 27% of the regional population, or to the waste generated by 170 million people.


These practices create serious health risks, both for people who work at the dump sites, as well as the communities around them. At the same time, this has resulted in severe environmental impacts, including water pollution, emission of toxic and greenhouse gases, as well as soil pollution, which in turn affect production activity, as well as the tourism industry.


For this reason, it is essential to progressively phaseout open dump sites, and replace them with effective management practices and final waste disposal methods.


Organic waste represents, on average, 50% of municipal waste in the countries of the region. The lack of specific treatment options generates greenhouse gases and leachates, in addition to reducing the quality of recyclable products and making this process more difficult.


Therefore, source separation should be promoted, as well as separate collection systems for dry and organic wastes and their proper treatment.


Simultaneously, a gradual ban of dumping biodegradable waste on sanitary landfills should be considered, while at the same time encouraging its utilization, for example, through composting.


Any strategy should firstly consider the options to reducing the amount of food waste that is currently being generated.


Recycling rates in Latin America and the Caribbean are still low (between 1-20%), which means that approximately 90% of municipal waste ends up in landfills.


This situation contrasts with the widely accepted waste management hierarchy, which places prevention and recovery as top priorities. Bridging the traditional “use and toss” scheme, inherited from linear economic systems, requires a paradigm shift towards a circular economy, based on replicating nature’s biological mechanisms by introducing the idea of an industrial metabolism.


This must be based on thinking and designing products so that after one use they can be reused or become a secondary raw material for a new industrial process or a source of alternative energy, thus displacing fossil fuels.


Waste management policies and systems must answer to a complex reality, taking into account the urgent need to prevent impacts associated with poor management practices which dominate the region, while maximizing the benefits on health and the environment which result from a sound waste management model and the efficient use of resources.


To this end, it is necessary that governments in Latin America and the Caribbean give adequate political priority to this issue.


This political decision implies the design and implementation of sound public policies and strategies, the creation of institutional support with proper legal frameworks, the use of duly financed available technologies with social inclusion and participation, and the use of management indicators and education and dissemination plans which contribute to its integration and sustainability.


To download the Waste Outlook for Latin America and Caribbean:


Full Report (English and Spanish) -





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