President's Blog

13 Jun 2017 09:42 Age: 2 yrs

Guest Blog | New Data Highlights the Waste Situation in Asia: A Guest Blog from Prof. Agamuthu Pariatamby

Category: CloseDumpsites, ISWA News, ISWA BLOG


Prof. Agamuthu is a Senior Professor at the University of Malaya (UM) and is the President of the Malaysian Society of Waste Management and Environment. He is also the editor in chief of ISWA's academic Journal - Waste Management & Research.


Today he has prepared a guest blog for ISWA on the exciting new Asian Waste Management Outlook. Look out for its launch at the upcoming ISWA World Congress!

The Asia Waste Management Outlook (AWMO) was prepared to complement the Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO) focusing on the Asian region. It provides an overview of the “state of the art” topics, case studies, and the future of waste management in Asia over the next decade, highlighting challenges and opportunities. The AWMO is developed with the support and guidance of the International Environment and Technology Centre of the UN Environment Programme UNEP), following the quality assurance by the Steering Committees, reflecting the consultations with regional stakeholders and contributions made by the countries.


The Asian population was 4.45 billion in 2015 while the urban population was 2 billion (48%). The amount of solid waste generated in 2012 was 0.28 billion tonnes which is expected to increase to 1.8 billion tonnes in 2025. This means Asia will soon become the largest waste generating continent in the world.


Unfortunately, the waste-related data in the Asian region is not up to date, not representative and reliable as it comes from a multitude of sources that are not verified. The definition and scope of waste also differs. At the national levels, social, economic and demographic factors are significant in determining the waste characteristics as well as, the volume. Waste streams such as e-waste, Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste, food waste, healthcare waste and micro-plastic are the key concerns. Management of End of life vehicles needs to be addressed on a priority basis since an estimated 2.4 million motor vehicles will be discarded in Asia by 2020. Healthcare waste generation per bed in hospitals is on average about 0.5 kg of hazardous waste per bed per day; while low-income countries generate on average about 0.2 kg. As for marine debris, plastics are the most prevalent form of debris and consistently comprise 60 to 80 per cent of total debris recorded.


Waste collection is another factor that determines the efficiency of a waste management system. Strengthening of basic infrastructure for waste collection, treatment and disposal is a topmost priority since the collection rates in Asian cities are rather dismal. Yet, community-initiated waste collection schemes have been successful in several countries. Decentralized approaches to waste management will be both effective and sustainable in Asia.


Open dumping of waste is the most common waste management approach (low- and middle-income countries). 17 of the world’s 50 largest dumpsites, are located in Asia, where most landfills are not scientifically operated with heaps of incoming untreated waste. Rehabilitation of dumpsites is crucial and technologies for landfill mining and landfill gas recovery should be actively explored with private sector participation.


There is a significant potential to reduce wastes, reuse and recycle (3Rs) to realize economic gains, achieve higher productivity and resource security as well as generate employment. The 3R approach reduces risks to humans and ecosystems while promoting circular economy. The informal sector plays a huge role in the segregation of recyclables in most Asian countries. Materials recovery facilities play a key role in integrated solid waste management, providing a safe environment for waste pickers to work, encouraging communities to recycle and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. Green products and green public procurement play a major role in material and waste reduction and reduce health- and safety-related risks across the life cycle. Importantly, these strategies also lead to innovation.


The secondary materials industry in Asia is growing rapidly and its growth is important to offer an alternative to the use of virgin materials, thereby improving resource security and reducing GHG emissions. Practice of Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) with 3Rs and zero waste commitment are steps towards building a circular economy framework. Asian countries should make efforts in this direction.


Most countries in Asia have clearly defined responsibilities for waste management and recognize the importance of national and local governments working together. It is important to highlight the wider and long-term economic, environmental and social benefits to bring out the importance and advantages of investing in the waste management infrastructure. Here private sector has an important role to play.


It is also important to estimate and communicate the costs of inaction on waste management to decision makers, administrators and the politicians. The costs of managing solid waste compared to inaction are between 10 per cent and 35 per cent for a typical Asian city. Adoption of policies and regulatory frameworks need to be coupled with implementation and enforcement. The step from legislation to enforcement is still a major issue for many Asian countries. The focus in many Asian countries is still on achieving adequate disposal, but a third of Asian countries legislatively encourage job creation through the application of measures that are higher up the waste management hierarchy. 


Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) or product stewardship provisions are found only in three of the 25 Asian countries surveyed. Adoption of legislations to promote a circular economy is still in infancy in Asia.


To track the progress on policies as well as in practice, environmental indicators need to be established that as relevant for policymakers, are understandable by users and are analytically sound and easily measurable. Comparability of indicators between countries is difficult owing to differing definitions of data and the structure of indicators. There is a need to establish a common and agreed-upon set of indicators with uniform definitions of data. Less than half the Asian countries have basic data on municipal waste generated, and one-sixth has data from higher up the waste management hierarchy. Resource management indicators show that Asian countries have significantly increased their efficiency over the past half century, but show they are particularly vulnerable to international fossil fuel policies. Integrating waste management and resource management indicators can provide an overall efficiency of circular economy for a country.


The Way Forward


Some of the key recommendations of the Outlook are


  • Build more reliable, comprehensive waste-related statistics because paucity of data affects system design, technology selection, and estimation of investment needs and assessment of policy performance.
  • Standardize definitions of waste streams and waste-related terminologies to track progress and make comparisons and improve compliance on waste-related regulations across product life cycles through strict enforcement and monitoring.
  • Conduct studies and communicate the “costs of inaction” to realize the health, environmental and social impacts of indiscriminate waste disposal. Remediate contaminated dumpsites and the surrounding environment.
  • Test the effectiveness of economic instruments for effective and sustainable waste management. While promoting reduction in resource use and improve resource use efficiency. 
  • Control consumerism and consumption patterns by promoting collaborative consumption and shared economy among stakeholders, especially with those who cannot afford assets on their own or do not have access. Design products and services with sustainability as a focus and minimize consumption of natural resources and waste generation across the product’s life cycle, promote eco-labels and the practice of green products. Develop EPR, codes of practice, and quality standards for recycled materials while promoting green public procurement.

Authors: Prasad Modak, Agamuthu, P. and Jeff Seadon.