Waste management driving green growth
Why is solid waste management still such a challenge?
Sound solid waste management (SWM) is crucial to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, time and time again the public sector, particularly in developing countries, lacks the resources and infrastructure to tackle the increasing amount of waste that is being produced through population growth, urbanisation and new consumption patterns as well as the skills and expertise to address its growing complexity. While the private sector has been able to take on some of the burden, generally the high prices mean that only high level income households can afford the services. As a result collection and recycling rates remain low, at 25% according to the Green Economy Report (UNEP, 2011), and waste is illegally dumped, causing serious environmental damage, pollution and health problems, and in the long term high down-stream costs.1
SWM as a pathway to green growth?
At the same time SWM offers valuable pathways to a green economy. It has the potential to be an engine for growth by creating new value chains, employment and innovative products while addressing social and environmental issues. According to the Green Economy Initiative the global waste market, from collection to recycling, is estimated at US$410 billion a year.2One crucial aspect of the sector is that it is accessible to all, even the poorest with few other employment opportunities, regardless of age, level of education or skills set, and it has low capital requirements. Nevertheless, the flipside is that the often informal and unregulated nature of those jobs results in unsafe working conditions, lack of physical protection, insecure income, child labour, and the absence of any social protection; i.e. not green and inclusive jobs. So how do we ensure that the SWM sector becomes a driver for green growth, rather than just a way of creating cheap and unregulated labour? Over the last ten years at Sustainable Entrepreneurship for Economic Development (SEED) it has become quite apparent how valuable multi-stakeholder partnerships are in transforming the SWM sector into an engine for green and inclusive growth, which is particularly evident in the case of 2009 SEED Winner Almodo, in Niger. Figure 1: the Almodo partnership model
How multi-stakeholder partnerships transformed SWM in Niger and beyond
Established in 2005, Almodo developed a SWM model to address the lack of waste collection in Niamey. They collect, sort and recycle waste using transformation processes well-known to the local population, which makes the technology accessible to all. The waste is then recycled into low cost products in the field of energy, agriculture, building and carpentry, substituting standard goods that impact climate change through deforestation, industrialisation and chemical fertilisation.The strength of Almodo lies in its ability to bring multi stakeholders together and foster local ownership. Led by the private company GVD-Afrique, the Almodo concept is based on a partnership between businesses, civil society organisations (CSOs) and city councils. Upon request, Almodo first trains city councils in sustainable waste management and sets up a project plan for the city. The second step revolves around engaging CSOs that work with marginalised citizens with few employment opportunities (mainly women, youth, rural communities, illiterate and disabled people). Through training, Almodo professionalises those vulnerable citizens as waste handlers and recyclers and ensures their products and service suit the local market. Finally GVD-A engages other local businesses to provide technical equipment, mostly locally sourced, and strengthens their know-how on innovative equipment development and maintenance. Most important in the process is the engagement of all partners from the outset and during the decision making process. Through this multi-stakeholder partnership model, Almodo is able to generate true triple bottom line – environmental, social and economic - impacts. First, waste pollution and landfill gas emission at dumping sites are reduced, recycling rates are increased and the products created out of recycling mitigate climate change. In addition, public health is improved, and marginalised communities develop transferable skills and are lifted out of poverty through safe and regulated employment opportunities. Besides increased income at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP), the products (made out of recycled material) are cheaper than their standard (unrecycled) substitutes; both contributing to the increase of the families’ purchase power. Finally, at municipal level, costs of waste management are reduced (up to 80%) and income increased through carbon credits. The replication rate of the model is a testimony to its success. Starting out with 1147 households in two quarters of Niamey, they have now been approached by 50 city councils in Niger, Mali, Togo, Congo, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast to replicate the model. As a result, they now provide direct employment to over 2,500 people and cater for over 100,000 low income households.
Multi-stakeholder partnerships crucial for the future of sustainable SWM
Clearly the SWM sector offers valuable pathways to a green economy as it has the potential to generate multiple benefits. While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to sustainable SWM, for the sector to develop to its full potential and achieve triple bottom line impacts for green growth, it is essential to create inclusive and green value chains.Almodo highlights the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships in this regard. Specifically in the context of the SMW sector, it appears that partnerships between local governments, businesses and CSOs are most conducive to effectively address the challenges around resources, infrastructure, expertise and large scale service delivery at the BoP. In the case of Almodo, the partnerships are vital for harnessing expertise and inter-organisational learning, for pooling resources and capabilities, for navigating legislations and accessing finance, and for promoting sustainable waste management in the wider community. In addition, partnerships strengthen the durability of projects as they minimise the risk of failure due to disengagement of individuals; i.e. by engaging and giving ownership to multiple institutions, the project is more likely to continue if one or more individuals disengage. A clear condition for those partnerships to work is the necessity for mutual benefits for each partner, strong communication, and clearly defined roles.3 Almodo provides a snapshot of one solution, but for SWM to truly reach global impact and contribute to the Global Goals, it is now imperative for policy makers to support the replication of such models (tailored to their local context) at a large scale. More insights are needed into the barriers and success factors of such partnerships in SWM. For instance, while some partnerships are formalised, many partnerships at the BoP are based on trust and remain informal, which is a critical factor in the partnership management. The next step is then to further examine not only how policies, regulatory frameworks, and markets can support the scale up of the sector, but also how the ecosystem around it can boost its productivity and finally which reforms are necessary. In that, we all have a role to play and we encourage governments, civil society institutions and businesses to join forces in this challenge. References:
- Hoornweg, D. and Perinaz, B. 2012. What a waste: A global review of Solid Waste Management. Urban Development Series – Knowledge Papers. World Bank.
- UNEP. 2011. Waste: Investing in energy and resource efficiency: Towards a green economy.
- Bymolt R. et al. 2015. Shaping sustainable development through eco-entrepreneurship. SEED Policy Report. Berlin: SEED.
This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 2 (March/April 2016).