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UN: Asia-Pacific’s waste crisis offers valuable opportunities

Staff writer |
Changing the way we think about waste has the potential to bring a range of economic, social and environmental benefits to cities.

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This is according to a new report from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Bangladesh-based social enterprise Waste Concern.

The report, Valuing Waste, Transforming Cities, compiles the results and lessons learned from a six-year regional programme run by ESCAP to provide concrete recommendations for governments to address the growing waste crisis in the Asia-Pacific region.

Although largely under-reported, the scale and extent of the region’s waste problem is grave and expected to worsen over the next ten years. Current estimates suggest the region’s generation of waste will rise from one million tonnes per day in 2012 to around 2.5 million tonnes by 2025.

However, this rising quantity of waste offers a considerable and largely untapped opportunity, the report indicates. A large proportion of the solid waste generated in low- and middle-income urban areas is organic, ranging from 52-65 per cent, but climbing as high as 80 per cent in some cities.

This waste, which includes food scraps and garden waste, can be recycled into compost, or transformed into biogas and used as an energy source. In addition, inorganic materials which could be sorted for recycling, like paper, plastic and glass, make up a further 26-33 per cent of municipal solid waste in the countries contributing to the report.

To illustrate the significant opportunity for resource recovery and recycling that this presents, the recommendations outlined in the report draw on six years of field-tested activities, strategies and models for pro-poor, sustainable municipal solid waste management.

Furthermore, the report recommends the use of integrated resource recovery centres, the low-cost, low-technology, community-based and decentralized waste-to-resource model used by Waste Concern in Bangladesh.

To support this, the report provides guidance for policymakers in establishing and managing similarly successful waste-to-resource initiatives in towns and cities in the Asia-Pacific region.

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