Article written by Darrel Moore and first published in CIWM journal.

CIWM has urged the UK Government to spearhead the negotiation of a “binding” international treaty to tackle marine plastic pollution, as well as increase foreign aid spent on waste management to at least 3% from its current estimated level of 0.3%.

Plastic bag floating in the ocean. Image credit: NOOA

Plastic bag floating in the ocean. Image credit: NOOA

Waste needs to be on the agenda on World Water Day 2018, according to CIWM and WasteAid UK, which has today (22 March) issued a call to action to the UK Government with a detailed briefing paper on the relationship between solid waste management and the growing tide of marine plastics pollution.

“From the Land to the Sea” catalogues the impact that poor or non-existent waste collection and management practices in developing countries have on the growing quantity of plastic waste that is entering the oceans every year.

“The figures speak for themselves,” says CIWM’s chief executive Dr Colin Church. “More than 90% of marine plastics comes from land-based sources. Overall, mismanaged municipal solid waste in developing countries could account for 50-70% by weight of the plastics entering the oceans.”

Recent debate on this agenda has focused on the amount of waste entering the oceans from 10 major rivers in Asia and Africa but this is just the tip of the iceberg at 0.4-4m tonnes a year.

“By far the biggest problem is the 4-12m tonnes a year that comes from mismanaged solid wastes generated within 50km of the coast, of which more than 50% comes from just five east Asia countries,” explains Professor David Wilson, President of CIWM and editor-in-chief of UNEP’s Global Waste Management Outlook.

This is a major concern, but it is only one aspect of the problem, CIWM says. With 2bn people living without waste collection and 3bn without controlled waste disposal, the poor management of solid waste is a “global crisis”, leading to land, water and air pollution, flooding, disease, disability, social inequality and climate change impacts.

CIWM and WasteAid UK are now calling on the UK Government to take immediate action by:

  • committing to increasing the proportion of its aid spent on waste management to at least 3% from its current estimated level of 0.3%;
  • championing the need for increases in aid to waste management at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and at the G7 this year, for example as part of the blue economy priority; and
  • spearheading the negotiation of a binding international treaty to tackle marine plastic pollution, which should have at its core prevention through proper solid waste management, as well as efforts to clean up existing pollution.

Creating Value From Waste

The Congo River in Kinshasa, full of plastic bottles (Jan 2018)

The published briefing claims two thirds of households in lower income countries have no waste collection at all and approximately 9m people die of diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants, twenty times more than die of malaria, and children face the highest risks.

However, it also points to a range of actions that governments, donors and aid organisations can take to develop and support sustainable approaches that enable local communities in developing countries to become engaged in improving their environment through waste collection and recycling schemes and to create value from their wastes.

“These communities need support from the ground up,” explains Mike Webster, chief executive of the charity WasteAid UK, which was commissioned by CIWM last year to develop the Making Waste Work toolkit for communities and NGOs and aid organisations working in developing countries.

“Simple waste management brings major improvements to people’s lives and the essential waste management skills and recycling techniques we share in the Making Waste Work toolkit can help a typical community to recycle up to eighty per cent of its waste. With support from the UK and Commonwealth governments, and the international aid and donor communities, we can make a very real difference.”

“Ultimately this is win-win opportunity,” says CIWM’s Dr Church. “A pro-poor, inclusive approach to improve solid waste management would provide a vital service to some of the world’s poorest communities, helping them to have a healthier place in which to live, grow and do business, whilst also creating jobs. It could also be a major step in tackling the marine plastics crisis, potentially halving the amount of plastic waste entering the oceans and also reducing the wider environmental impact of waste on the environment.”

The full briefing paper can be found here.

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