Opinion : "Integrated and stepped up approach is instrumental to improve waste management worldwide."

Concept environmental pollution ocean and water with plastic and human waste. Aerial top view.
© Parilov - stock.adobe.com

Directly related to daily human activities, the generation of solid waste has been increasing worldwide, especially in developing regions, where there is a pressing need for investments to promote the replacement of a linear and generally inadequate waste management system with a system in which the appropriate infrastructures are in place and supported by the principles of circularity.

Inadequate waste management poses a direct threat to the environment, to biodiversity and to human health, both locally and globally, affecting billions of people. To reverse this situation, which is still present in many parts of the world, it is urgent to establish a governance model in waste management, based on a holistic and stepped approach, which should lead to an integrated planning that establishes guidelines to enable an increase in coverage of waste collection and treatment, combined with useful applications for the recovery of materials.The eradication of all inappropriate disposal sites (open dumpsites and uncontrolled landfills) and an end to open burning, with the consequent implementation of adequate treatment infrastructures, which include engineered sanitary landfills and well-functioning biological and thermal treatment units, should be priority zero, since this is the only way to ensure the protection of human health and the environment.

Transition to a circular system

As a subsequent step, the waste master plan should indicate the paths for the transition towards a circular system, where products and resources are recovered and sustainably maintained in the cycle for as long as possible. The establishment of funds and measures to encourage circularity is of the utmost importance in this initial process of leveraging initiatives that allows a wider return and use of waste as resources in different sectors of the industry. The development of extended producer responsibility schemes, recycling credits and the structuring of operations that prioritise the use of renewable materials are examples already underway that help to accelerate a more circular model of waste and resources management.

Inadequate waste management poses a direct threat to the environment, to biodiversity and to human health, both locally and globally, affecting billions of people.
Carlos Silva Filho

The future of the waste sector

To this end, the waste sector has been testing (and already using in many places) state-of-the-art tools and technologies, which include automation of operations, adoption of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, traceability and remote monitoring software, sensors and alternative energies, bringing pragmatic and real solutions to the problems inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries to meet the needs and demands of the 21st century.

To put all these ideas into practice, it is essential to establish tariff systems to cover the costs, in a transparent and socially equitable way, with part of the resources directed to investments in the research and development of projects that expand the adequate provision of waste management services and enable the paradigm shift towards a circular model, in which discarded materials are effectively considered resources.