In Brazil, production is growing, inadequate disposal is not decreasing and the recycling rate of 3% to 4% is below the Latin American average, says a UN report

The management of MSW (municipal solid waste) in the world has worsened significantly in the last 10 years. And it continues to leave deep marks on the health and pockets of the planet.

Around 2.7 billion people in the world do not have garbage collection. Waste worsens the so-called triple planetary crisis, made up of climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Between 400,000 and 1 million people die every year from diseases related to poor waste management, including diarrhea, malaria, heart disease and cancer.

Without changes in consumption, production and disposal patterns, global MSW production tends to grow by 16% by 2030 and 65% by 2050, going from 2.3 billion tons in 2023 to 3.8 billion tons in 26 years.

In Brazil, production is expected to grow by more than 50% and could reach 120 million tons/year by 2050. One in every 11 people does not have garbage collection and more than 5 million tons of MSW are not collected annually, being discarded into the environment, contaminating soil, rivers and air.

The data is in the Global Waste Management Outlook 2024 report (PDF – 7MB), launched at the 6th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from February 26th to March 1st.

The report was developed by ISWA (International Solid Waste Association) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). Data collection and analysis were carried out by Brazilian researchers hired by the UN, in the project that began in 2019.

The survey only deals with MSW, which normally includes leftover food, packaging, personal hygiene products, but also clothes, shoes and broken electronic products. They come from homes and small businesses. They can be affected by weather conditions, economic recession and major events – such as the Covid pandemic. They are generally under the responsibility of municipal governments. Construction and demolition waste, industrial waste, agricultural and health waste are not included in the UNEP report.

In addition to the projections, there are 2 important highlights. For the first time, in an international report of this caliber, the global costs of waste were quantified, which combine direct management and the negative externalities of poor management and from which the resources obtained from recycling are subtracted. “In 2020, the total global costs of waste and its poor management for society reached US$361 billion”says the text.

And also, for the first time, a UN report specifies how to improve the situation. One of the important guidelines is to improve regulations around producers’ responsibilities with waste, a topic that should be part of the International Plastics Treaty, to be finalized in mid-April, in Canada, and approved in November, in Korea.

According to the UNEP document, “the impact of waste on climate change has historically been underestimated, which has led to underinvestment in reduction and management as an effective way to mitigate climate change”. Better waste and resource management could mitigate global GHG emissions by 15% to 25%. The report proposes that the topic be included in each country’s NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions).

“The report is a call to show that we are heading into a hole. But there is still a way out”says Carlos Silva Filho, president of ISWA and one of the authors of the international report.

Read below excerpts from the interview conducted on March 1st.

Poder360: What are the most important points of the report?
Carlos Silva Filho: “Firstly, between the previous report, from 2015, and this one now, from 2024, there is no improvement, on the contrary. Secondly, for the first time it was possible to calculate the cost of the negative externalities of waste. This is important because, in my opinion, there has been no progress because public and private managers do not realize that poor solid waste management has a much greater cost than adequate management.

“Thirdly, because for the first time a UN report clearly indicates the path to follow to get out of this path: reduce generation, change production processes, involve everyone, have resources, have better laws implemented in practice. In other words, in my opinion, from now on, no one can claim ignorance.”

The report cites the importance of separating MSW into 3 fractions at origin – recyclable, compostable organic and waste (which cannot be reused), which is an old banner of environmentalists and waste specialists.
“Yes. To consider waste as a resource, you need to value each of the fractions and separate them appropriately.”

According to the report, UNEP is working to improve regulations for the so-called EPR (Expanded Producer Responsibility). Can we hope that companies will bear the responsibility and costs of the waste they put into circulation?
“The EPR is a critical point. Pnuma sees 2 main effects: the 1st is that as soon as you put the burden on manufacturers, they tend to progressively improve the design process. The 2nd is that it is a source of resources to finance the management system.

“As you know, the big hole is where to get the resources to make this all happen. The concept must appear in the plastics treaty and thus be included in the management structure worldwide.”

Why was there a setback compared to 2015?
“There was no evolution in practices, or progress in rates of adequate disposal, of using waste as a resource, and we had an increase in waste generation, which has been increasing. In other words, the impacts of poor management are getting bigger and bigger.”

This survey only deals with MSW. Are there other surveys on other types of waste? Can you calculate the global problem of all waste?
“There are very specific surveys, such as electronic waste and agriculture. The project for this report began in 2019 and the idea was to cut out all other waste: industrial, electronics, textiles (which are rising). The case is that we do not have data on compatible bases.

“For RSU, although the methodologies are different, as we have explanations about the methodologies, we can harmonize the bases for making the global projection. We can’t do it for others.”

The report points to an important change consolidated in a 2023 European Union resolution to account for GHG emissions from incineration plants.
“Yes. As part of Europe and the United Kingdom’s decarbonization commitment, emissions accounting now includes emissions from waste-to-energy plants. Prior to this decision, these units were considered carbon negative. Now, they are carbon positive and their emissions must be accounted for.”

What is your assessment of the Brazilian situation in relation to waste?
“We continue skating and in a worse situation than the rest of the continent. We still have more trash going to landfills. The continent’s recycling average is 6% and Brazil’s is 3% to 4%, that is, to reach the continent’s average we would have to increase 50%.

“We do not have a perception in the country of the need to change the model, which continues to be linear, and we have a great resistance to attracting investments to the sector.”

Is the federal government making any positive moves?
“There is a positive agenda for the informal sector, with several initiatives to overcome the historical deficit that the country has in relation to these agents. But the focus cannot be just that.”


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