In 2016, the global population generated two billion tonnes of waste, a figure likely to double to four billion tonnes annually by 2050. High-income countries, representing some 16 % of the world’s population, generate a third of all solid waste. However, other regions are quickly – and regrettably – catching up, with Sub-Saharan set to triple its waste production over the next 30 years. The combination of these growing volumes of waste and the inadequate collection and disposal of waste has resulted in the proliferation of illegal dumpsites, waste burning, and the pollution of air, land and water sources in cities around the globe. The associated greenhouse gas emissions are also a major contributor to climate change. Poor waste management practices are not only harmful in themselves, they also ignore the great potential for resource recovery from waste, the opportunities for income and employment generation waste management entails, and improvements in quality of life for urban citizens through reduced pollution. Irrespective of their size and financial capacity, cities thus urgently need to decrease waste generation, improve municipal waste collection and management, increase levels of recycling and enhance the management of hazardous waste. Through the creation of sustainable finance mechanisms, green jobs and business opportunities and a vibrant local circular economy, cities have the potential to become true ‘waste wise cities’.
To support cities and local governments in reaching those aims and place the issue of waste management high on the political agenda, UN-Habitat launched the Waste Wise Cities Campaign. Cities taking up the invitation to join the Campaign commit to adhering to twelve key Waste Wise Principles, collecting data on waste management and using these in decision-making processes, and monitoring and improving on waste-related SDGs. Upon signing the letter of intent by the local authorities, a baseline waste management profile is created which underpins the continuous monitoring and annual evaluation of the city’s progress towards becoming a Waste Wise City, as well as the wider success of the Campaign. UN-Habitat plays a key role in facilitating this process through assisting cities in data collection and monitoring, sharing best practices and sustaining the network of member cities, designing outreach, advocacy and educational activities and helping the development of sound financial plans and bankable projects. In so doing, the Campaign targets primarily SDGs 11 and 12 on sustainable cities and responsible consumption and production.
Towards a Solution
During its first year, the Campaign has been tremendously successful. Over the past twelve months, nearly 100 cities totalling over 43 million citizens in the Asian-Pacific, African, Arab and Latin American and Caribbean regions joined the Campaign. This allows to set ambitious future goals: by October 2023, five years after its establishment, the Waste Wise Cities Campaign aims to reach 4 billion citizens in 10,000 urban communities, including a significant proportion of urban poor, youth and informal waste workers, who are a particular focus of the Campaign.
Aside from this key focus, the Campaign designed numerous other initiatives. These included the ‘Waste Wise Cities Call for Innovations’ in the framework of World Habitat Day 2019, which resulted in 243 innovative waste management ideas addressing all components of the waste management cycle, and the assembly of nearly 50 private stakeholders joining the Campaign as affiliates. Looking ahead, the 2020 Waste Wise Cities Challenge is about to be launched, whereby 20 Waste Wise Challenger Cities and Supporting Cities team up to adopt the Waste Wise Principles and will support each other in achieving their implementation. With an average population of one million people, this implies an additional 20 million citizens will benefit from the Campaign.
The programme aims and activities are seamlessly aligned with the four core domains of change of UN-Habitat’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan. Through its global approach and focus on leaving no-one behind whilst creating income-generating opportunities, the Campaign is bound to reduce spatial inequalities and poverty, rendering cities ever more prosperous. Moreover, in providing innovative solutions to the urban waste crisis, it contributes to a significant improvement of the urban environment while mitigating the nefarious impact of poor waste management on climate change. Building an ever-growing global network of cities working towards sound, sustainable and innovative waste management, the Waste Wise Cities Campaign thus has the potential to improve of the lives of billions around the world.