Global Waste Management Outlook
The challenge of sustainable waste management

Waste is a global issue. If not properly dealt with, waste poses a threat to public health and the environment.  It is a growing problem that results from the way we produce and consume. It concerns everyone.


Waste management is one of the essential utility services - a basic human need and a basic human right - that underpins society in the 21st century, particularly in urban areas. Ensuring proper sanitation and solid waste management sits alongside providing potable water, shelter, food and energy, and also transport and communications, as essential to society, business and the economy. However, the public and political profile of (solid) waste management is often lower than other utility services.

Unfortunately, the consequences of not addressing waste management can be very costly to society and the economy as a whole. In the absence of waste regulations and their rigorous implementation and enforcement, the waste generator will tend to adopt the cheapest available option: for example, household wastes may be dumped in the street, on vacant ground, into drains, streams or water courses, or burned to ‘reduce’ the nuisance of accumulated piles of waste.

  • Public health: Not having a waste collection service has a direct health impact on residents, particularly children; accumulated wastes and blocked drains both encourages vectors to breed, leading to infectious diseases including cholera and dengue fever, and is a major cause of flooding; uncontrolled dumpsites, and in particular hazardous wastes mixed with other wastes, can cause disease in neighbouring settlements, as well as among waste workers. ( e.g. plague disease in Surat, collection crisis in Naples, major floods in Ghana)

On a larger scale, when significant quantities of wastes from cities and/or industries are dumped or burned in the open, the adverse impacts on air, water, land and sea pollution, and thus indirectly also on public health, can be severe. 

  • Environmental pollution: Dumpsites on land can cause pollution of both surface and groundwater; sites are often alongside rivers or the sea, so can directly contribute to river and sea pollution; erosion from coastal dumpsites is one source of marine litter. Among other potential damage costs are the loss to tourism of polluted beaches or damage to fisheries. (e.g. landslide in the Payatas dumpsite in Philippines, the Love canal disasters in US)

Uncontrolled wastes are not ‘managed’ and thus not measured, so both estimating the size of the problem, and then estimating how much it costs society, is more than difficult. But the evidence gathered here suggests that the costs to society and the economy are perhaps 5-10 times the cost per capita for proper solid waste management in a middle- or low-income city. It is MUCH cheaper to manage wastes now in an environmentally sound manner, rather than to be obliged later to clean up the ‘sins of the past’.

This Global Waste Management Outllook (GWMO) sets out to make the case that waste management is not just necessary and beneficial, but that it is ESSENTIAL.

Waste management as an entry point for sustainable development

Waste management is a cross-cutting issue impacting on many aspects of society and the economy. It is thus often viewed as just one of many ‘secondary’ issues, rather than being singled out as a political prioritiy in its own right. The political case for action can be significantly strengthened if waste management is viewed not just as an end in its own right, but also as an ‘entry point’: in other words, by tackling waste management, one is also simultaneously tackling a range of other (often ‘difficult to reach’) sustainable development issues. Four entry points are introduced here, corresponding to the three ‘pillars’ or ‘domains’ of sustainability, and to their integration into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Environment and climate change – Environmental Domain: Waste is a cross-cutting environmental issue, where all the different strands interact.
Good governance – Social Domain: A clean city, where the solid waste management service is clearly effective, is a successful city
Enterprise & creating sustainable livelihoods – Economic Domain: Good waste and resource management also brings many positive benefits to society and the economy.
Sustainable Development Goals – Integration: Waste management is well embedded within the draft SDGs, elements being dispersed over at least four of the 17 proposed higher-level intermediate goals


Recognising how important is tackling waste management, In 2013, the UNEP Governing Council, decision GC 27/12 on Chemicals and Waste Management, requested UNEP “to develop a global outlook of challenges, trends and policies in relation to waste prevention, minimization and management, …, to provide guidance for national policy planning.” This is to be done “taking into account the materials life cycle, subject to the availability of extra-budgetary resources and in consultation with Governments and stakeholders, building on available data, best practices and success stories, taking into account the Global Chemicals Outlook and any other relevant initiatives and taking care not to duplicate existing information”.

Responding to this mandate, UNEP’s Executive Director appointed the International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC), in collaboration with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), to develop this Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO).

Overall aims of the GWMO

The GWMO has been developed to provide an overview of waste management around the world - where it has come from, what the current status is and where the current thinking on state of the art indicates that the future lies over the medium term. To reflect UNEP’s mandate, the GWMO presents waste management both as essential for ensuring public health and environmental protection once wastes have been generated, but also in the wider context of ‘waste and resource management’, highlighting the need for considering the whole lifecycle of materials and products  in order to achieve waste prevention and minimization.

The Outlook aims to provide the rationale and the tools for taking a holistic approach towards waste management and recognising waste and resource management as a significant contributor to sustainable development and climate change mitigation.


The GWMO will be launched on the 7 September at the ISWA Congress. The key messages and recommendations of the GWMO will be unveiled then in an event opened by The City of Antwerp, ISWA and UNEP that will be followed by the presentation of the GWMO by the Chief Editor and a panel discussion session with senior dignitaries from different countries and regions.

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