The amount of waste increases globally at an alarming rate and with the expected growth of the world’s population to 9 billion by 2050, the threat posed by society to the environment is immense. The emergence of a middle class in developing countries is exacerbating the situation. The OCDE has estimated that their number will go from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 4.9 in 2030. The role of this middle class in economic growth but also in the consumption of goods and services will become predominant.
The current consumption model is often limited to “Take-Make-Waste”. Waste disposal is considered as being the final stage of our value chain and its impact on society, environment and economy is widely underestimated. The system is looking at improving the current situation rather than looking for a different solution to satisfy the real needs. Waste management is generally considered from a local perspective, but depends mostly on social and cultural phenomena and crosses the boundaries of the natural communities.
The problems posed by waste in developing countries like Benin are multiple and increases the population’s vulnerability, especially those of the most disadvantaged classes. The damages caused to human lives and the environment are permanent. The lack of understanding regarding the complexity and the challenges resulting from the increasing production, accumulation and mismanagement of waste is the main reason the government relegates its importance behind the priority for developing the country’s economy.
It is, therefore, indispensable to rethink this problem in a more comprehensive way by repositioning it in a coordinated and integrated frame, that ensures the sustainability of future initiatives. Especially that technical, financial, environmental and institutional challenges are enormous.
With the increase of the world’s population, its life span and the emergence of a class that will play a dominant role in our consumption model, we are facing a major crisis with the amount of waste we produce and the way we manage it globally. Plastics, metals, and other toxics are present in all consumables and have resulted in more sophisticated and expensive ways to dispose of our waste.
Despite the financial and industrial resources that the richest countries have at their disposal, only a limited quantity of our waste is being processed locally. The remainder is “exported” to the poorest regions of the Planet. In addition, these same countries suffer from the rapid transition of organic waste to more industrialized ones, without the financial resources and technical means to cope with this challenge.
Since 1987, the Republic of Benin enacted several laws and national decrees with the objective to sanitize the living and working framework of its communities. It has already implemented some actions in partnership with organizations active in the waste management sector. The cost for implementing a comprehensive system that optimizes the collection of waste and promotes a better use of recycling mechanisms is evaluated at more than half a billion Euros spread over twenty-five years from now. The success also depends on the capacity of the government to establish an efficient institutional and regulatory framework as well as managing the multiple streams implicated in the waste lifecycle rationally. The government cannot tackle this immense challenge on its own and needs private partnerships that will bring innovative solutions to minimize the environmental and sanitary costs on short, medium and long terms.
Picture taken in Cotonou Laguna in September 2015
There is an increase in awareness around waste management in both developed and developing countries but the matter is still being looked at mainly from the environmental angle and overlooks the societal and economic interactions. We can and must transform the problem into an opportunity for real sustainability. We must no longer look at waste as an inevitable cost but as a resource to be exploited by industry and agriculture.
- Waste has an impact on the environment as a whole and creates risks for humanity, with hundreds of thousands of deaths a year caused by its effect on water alone.
- Local authorities and taxpayers mostly finance waste management, putting the burden mainly on communities and not on the companies who make a profit by collecting and disposing of waste in landfills.
- Most waste has a value attached to it and can be considered as a valuable resource. The basis of a “zero-waste” economy exists but is not effective, largely due to its costly implementation and recycling operations.
- The mismanagement of waste is an obstacle to economic development. It is hard to conceive as the public sector is usually in charge of managing waste and assuming the costs while the economic sector is in charge of operations and absorbs the profits generated.
- People, households, and companies are the sole contributors to the waste lifecycle process but are not responsible actors in general. Social and cultural norms vary from country to country and education is the key driver for this necessary change in the collective mindset.
Federate the actors (i.e. state, local authorities, general population, collectors, industries, and companies) around a common goal. A mean to reach this objective is to turn waste into a resource. We can adopt a new paradigm that can create opportunities, generating income for the poorest, more jobs, allowing public spending in other directions such as education and health, and reusing our natural resources through a more efficient recycling process. Our waste project in Benin must be an opportunity for the government to realize its programs, leveraging on the existing legal, regulatory, organizational, technical, financial and economic tools.
By Mark E Giannelli, April 2016
ReBin 2016 ©