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Solid waste management for sustainability

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Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD.

Making our cities more climate resilient

In rapidly urbanizing cities of the HKH, the management of municipal solid waste is a major challenge. As the volume of waste produced increases – with increasing populations and living standards marked by conspicuously greater consumption – municipal authorities are often stretched in trying to meet demands for waste collection and disposal.

The waste management problem has multiple facets. Garbage that is improperly disposed of is polluting, which has obvious environmental implications. It also contributes to urban flooding – during the rainy season, pieces of rubbish, particularly plastic waste, that have collected on the roadside and in drains block water channels and cause waterlogging.

To understand how we might make cities more resilient by helping them manage their waste, we spent four years (from 2017 to 2020) conducting a comprehensive study in Bharatpur Metropolitan City (BMC), Nepal, and Sylhet City Corporation (SCC), Bangladesh.

INFORMING PRACTICE

Our research provided ample evidence on how we can reduce the risk of waterlogging in urban areas by managing municipal solid waste better. Consequently, BMC put in place a policy of segregating solid waste at source to increase recycling and composting.

Furthermore, the local government’s efforts to reduce the risk of water logging have increased community resilience and reduced the vulnerability of people living in low-lying, flood-prone areas – often low-income families and individuals drawn by the lower land prices and rents. The same is true in SCC, Bangladesh, where measures have been adopted to reduce the risk of urban flooding and water logging through better management of municipal solid waste.

ENGAGING COMMUNITIES

Effective solid waste management is extremely valuable as an approach to making cities more climate resilient. With greater municipal support and clear guidelines, community involvement and ownership in waste collection has significantly improved.

Our findings – that households are indeed willing to pay an additional service fee for improved waste management facilities and that the introduction of a system of progressive tariffs can cover waste management fees to ensure even low-income communities can avail of these services – have encouraged municipalities to impact policy and implement solutions on the ground.

Additionally, in one ward in Bharatpur, we have been able to engage the community in reporting discrepancies in waste collection and registering complaints regarding waste burning and unauthorized dumping through a mobile app we are piloting. And in Sylhet, city authorities requested our team to expand the scope of the research beyond household waste to also cover waste generated by businesses.

A post-pandemic recovery must keep the rise of global temperature to below 1.5 degrees. Recognizing that climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the HKH, our regional countries have put in place policies and targets to mitigate and adapt to its impacts. Climate targets in the waste sector focus on increasing composting, increasing the percentage of energy from waste-to-energy plants, and capturing landfill gas and converting it to electricity.
(Paraphrased from ICIMOD 2020, COVID-19 impact and policy responses in the Hindu Kush Himalaya)

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