What a waste: solid waste management in Asia

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Courtesy of ORBIT e.V.

As urbanisation and economic development increases in Asia, nowhere is the impact more obvious than in society’s “detritus” or solid waste. Today, the urban areas of Asia produce about 760,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day, or approximately 2.7 million m3 per day. In 2025, this figure will increase to 1.8 million tonnes of waste per day, or 5.2 million m3 per day. These estimates are conservative; the real values are probably more than double this amount.

Local governments in Asia currently spend about US $25 billion per year on urban solid waste management. This amount is used to collect more than 90 percent of the waste in high income countries, between 50 to 80 percent in middle income countries, and only 30 to 60 percent in low income countries. In 2025, Asian governments should anticipate spending at least double this amount (in 1998 US dollars) on solid waste management activities.

This paper briefly focuses on waste management only as it pertains to urban environments, based on (1) projections that in 2025 about 52 percent of Asia’s population will reside in urban areas, and (2) evidence that urban residents generate at least two times more waste per capita than their rural counterparts. Although urban waste management data may be inconsistent and unreliable, rural solid waste management data are virtually non-existent and are derived only from assumptions regarding purchasing habits. Given these factors, it is clear that solid waste management efforts must target priority urban areas.

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