UNEP: 'Urgent response' needed to avert global waste crisis

The first ever worldwide waste report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says immediate action is required to shift from 'take-make-use-waste' to a circular economy.

7-10 billion tonnes of urban waste is produced each year, with 3 billion people across the globe lacking access to efficient waste disposal facilities

7-10 billion tonnes of urban waste is produced each year, with 3 billion people across the globe lacking access to efficient waste disposal facilities

Global Waste Management Outlook - a report from UNEP and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) - found that seven to 10 billion tonnes of urban waste is now produced each year, with three billion people across the globe still lacking access to efficient waste disposal facilities. 

And volumes of waste are likely to double in lower-income African and Asian cities by 2030, fuelled by population growth, urbanisation and rising consumption, according to the report.


UNEP encourages a change of perspective; moving from thinking of waste as merely a health and environmental threat, to using it as a catalyst for economic growth - especially in low-income countries where only 35% of waste is disposed in a controlled manner.

UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “An urgent response to the world's mounting waste problem is not only a public health and environmental necessity, but also a sound economic investment. Inaction is costing countries five to 10 times more than investments in proper waste management. A greater commitment by nations to systematically apply the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – can transform the problem of waste into a resource for our economies.

“The global waste management goals proposed by this report have the potential to result in dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases, the creation of millions of green jobs and economic benefits in the hundreds of billions of dollars. By achieving them, we would also be taking massive strides toward realising the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The diagram below, included within the report, displays the measures that UNEP says should be taken to reduce global waste.Commenting on the report's findings, Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren - president of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) - said: "Collectively we have the technological capacity to solve the global waste problem. Despite of this, a staggering three billion people worldwide lack access to controlled waste disposal, with the result that wastes litter our streets with grave environmental and health consequences.

"This situation can be changed only if countries enforce proactive policies and sound institutions that encourage waste minimization and recycling. Major producers should also be more involved in managing the entire lifecycle of their products. International cooperation will be vital in preventing developing countries from becoming dumping ground for hazardous materials."

Major producers

Some businesses have been leading the way in this area. Consumer goods giant Unilever - whose brands include Magnum, Knorr, Dove and Domestos - recently achieved the feat of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across the globe, saving more than €200m in waste costs. Meanwhile, Nestle has reduced its own environmental impact with 72 factories across the US sending zero waste to landfill.

But the UNEP report calls on other corporations to do more; with demands for a maximisation of initiatives in the areas of re-use and recycling of resources, supported by improvements in waste collection and disposal from national governments.

Earlier this year, WRAP announced that food waste emits 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, amounting to 7% of all emissions. The organisation recently released a report stating that £194bn could be saved annually by 2030, if governments across the world made reducing food waste an urgent priority. And earlier today, another WRAP report concluded that moving to a circular economy could create up to three million extra jobs by 2030.

Read the full UNEP report here.

Matt Mace


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