Working Paper
Solid Wastes, Poverty and the Environment in Developing Country Cities

Challenges and Opportunities

Many cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America face serious problems managing their wastes. Two of the major problems are the insufficient collection and inappropriate final disposal of wastes. Despite spending increasing resources, many cities – particularly in Africa and Asia – collect less than half of the waste generated. Most wastes are disposed of in open dumps, deposited on vacant land, or burned by residents in their backyards. Insufficient collection and inadequate disposal generate significant pollution problems and risks to human health and the environment. Over one billion people living in low-income communities and slums lack appropriate waste management services. Given the rapid population growth and urbanization in many cities, the management of wastes tends to further deteriorate. This paper examines the challenges and opportunities that exist in improving the management of waste in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is argued that, despite a worsening trend, there are opportunities for reducing pollution, alleviating poverty, improving the urban environment, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries by implementing low-cost, low-tech, labour-intensive methods that promote community participation and involve informal refuse collectors and waste-pickers. Evidence from several cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is discussed.