Turn Waste-Related Challenges into Opportunities through the Lens of Governance

  • 2018/07/06     Dresden, Germany

    Uncontrolled waste disposal methods pose a negative influence on health and sanitation (Image: istockphoto/luoman).

    By Sohyeon Ryu and Hiroshan Hettiarachchi, Waste Management

    Waste management is a domain that is directly related to health and sanitary issues, yet it is largely driven by the private sector – at times at the expense of public health. Stakeholders on the business side of waste management pursue their own profits. Due to the wide scope and variety of stakeholders, the governance perspective in the field of integrated sustainable management of municipal solid waste (MSW) is critical.

    In our recently released journal article on MDPI’s Recycling, we deal with the waste management governance situation in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). LAC countries face difficulties which hinder the sustainable management of MSW – during the process of managing waste from sorting to collecting and disposal. The general public interest in source separation is low and this leads to low recycling and high landfilling rates.

    Much worse, uncontrolled disposal options, open dumps, for instance, have a negative influence on health and sanitation.


    In addition to these direct consequences, LAC countries are also facing financial difficulties and ineffective billing systems for collecting and treating waste. Rapid and massive urbanisation of LAC cities – which now accommodate over 80% of the region’s population – is another obstacle which explains increasing waste generation.


    Rapid urbanisation in Latin America and the Caribbean means an increased rate of waste generation (Image: istockphoto/luoman).

    However, looking from the governance perspective, LAC countries have a possibility of turning these challenges into opportunities for the sustainable management of municipal solid waste.


    The article “Municipal Solid Waste Management in Latin America and the Caribbean” (Hettiarachchi et al. 2018) discusses the regional status of waste and regionalised solutions along three categories of governance: bureaucratic governance, market governance, and network governance.

    Many global initiatives have been increasingly emphasising on governance strategies in LAC. The 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP) which was adopted by UN Environment in 2012 is one of them and its main strategy is to evaluate the regional sustainable consumption and production priorities among national policies, SMEs, and integrated waste management. It is a momentous time to integrate dispersed waste management policies within governance.

    In this paper, we clarify the stakeholders that are involved in MSW management and how policies work by categorising policies from the governance perspective. This may serve as guidance for the LAC countries that are trying to adopt sustainable solid waste management policies.

    While bureaucratic governance is related to authorities (like a government) having an effective power to execute MSW management policies, market governance relates to utilising the power of the market where people act according to their interest which theoretically guarantees the maximisation of social interest. Market governance works when MSW markets are efficient and transparent, in which the private sector including microenterprises participates. Finally, network governance emphasises the participation of the public as well as private entities. This includes the informal sector (individual waste pickers) which supplies a great human resource for collecting and implementing programmes to engage the public in MSW management.

    The contribution of the informal sector (as pictured, waste pickers) is usually underestimated; they are in fact a good human resource in municipal solid waste management (Image: istockphoto/marciopannunzio).

    By dissecting the various governance perspectives, focused recommendations can be made addressing the various aspects of MSW management. For example, in the area of bureaucratic governance, better billing strategies for LAC or operating a public solid waste service company that has administrative and financial autonomy may be good solutions. In terms of market governance, a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to MSW management projects could provide an economic incentive to bigger enterprises. A network governance perspective, on the other hand, could give us hints on how best to mobilise the informal sector through incentive programmes, for instance.

    We can turn waste problems into opportunities with the lens of governance. What may be considered as typical waste-related problems – whether they be rapid urbanisation or the numbers of informal waste pickers – in LAC could be inverted and used instead as a resource to manage the MSW management situation.


    Hettiarachchi, H., Ryu, S., Caucci, S. and Silva, R. 2018. “Municipal Solid Waste Management in Latin America and the Caribbean: Issues and Potential Solutions from the Governance Perspective.” Recycling 3:19, doi:10.3390/recycling3020019.

    UN Environment. Global Action for Sustainable Consumption and Production. Available: http://web.unep.org/10yfp/where-we-work/latin-america-and-caribbean (Accessed on June 2018).