World Faces Looming Waste Crisis, UNEP Report Warns

As the world grapples with the mounting challenge of waste crisis management, a new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) underscores the urgent need for a paradigm shift towards treating rubbish as a valuable resource. The report, titled ‘Beyond an age of waste: Turning rubbish into a resource’, was unveiled during the ongoing sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) in Nairobi.

Highlighting the alarming projections outlined in the Global Waste Management Outlook 2024 (GWMO 2024), the report reveals that municipal solid waste generation is poised to surge from 2.3 billion tonnes in 2023 to a staggering 3.8 billion tonnes by 2050.

Such exponential growth in waste production, particularly in regions heavily reliant on open dumping and burning practices, threatens to exacerbate pollution levels at an alarming rate. Moreover, the economic toll of inaction on waste management is projected to soar, with costs estimated to surpass USD 600 billion per year by 2050. This staggering figure underscores the imperative for swift and decisive action to decouple waste generation from economic growth and transition towards zero waste and circular economy approaches.

“Waste generation is intrinsically tied to GDP, and many fast-growing economies are struggling under the burden of rapid waste growth. By identifying actionable steps to a more resourceful future and emphasizing the pivotal role of decision-makers in the public and private sectors to move towards zero waste, this Global Waste Management Outlook can support governments seeking to prevent missed opportunities to create more sustainable societies and to secure a livable planet for future generations,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director. 

Carlos Silva Filho, President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), echoed this sentiment, underscoring the importance of collective action in implementing transformative solutions to address the challenges posed by the current waste crisis to have management practices.

waste crisis

The report’s modeling indicates that embracing waste prevention and management measures could mitigate net annual costs by 2050 to USD 270.2 billion. However, the adoption of a circular economy model offers even greater promise, potentially yielding a net gain of USD 108.5 billion per year by decoupling waste generation from economic growth through sustainable business practices and comprehensive waste management strategies.

Zoë Lenkiewicz, lead author of the report, stressed the urgent need for a shift towards a zero-waste approach to curb pollution, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and safeguard human health. With pollution from waste transcending borders, Lenkiewicz emphasized the importance of global commitment to waste prevention and investment in comprehensive waste management solutions.

Against the backdrop of the report’s dire findings, the UNEA-6 conference in Nairobi serves as a crucial platform for policymakers, experts, and stakeholders to galvanize efforts towards addressing the global waste crisis. With the world facing a looming waste crisis, strong leadership, and concerted action are imperative to chart a course toward a more sustainable future.

The Global Waste Management Outlook 2024, a collaborative effort between UNEP and ISWA, serves as a clarion call for global action to prioritize waste crisis prevention and bolster municipal waste management services for the betterment of planetary and human health. Through the evaluation of potential strategies for waste reduction and enhanced management, the report advocates for treating all waste materials as valuable resources, aligning with the principles of the circular economy.

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