Waste management crisis has reached tipping point

Waste management

Waste management and open burning of waste in African nations is reaching a tipping point and action must be taken, according to global safety charity, Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

report by Engineering X, an international collaboration founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, revealed the full extent of the challenges faced by many African countries where there is a lack of waste management infrastructure.

The study follows an earlier Engineering X report that highlighted the dangers and impact of the open burning of waste, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Discussion of these issues around the open burning of waste was included in the formal COP programme for the first time during COP26 last year. Now, Dr Ruth Boumphrey, chief executive at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, will be using COP27 as a global platform to advocate for better waste management solutions.

Figures from the Engineering X report, written by Professor Desta Mebratu and Dr Andriannah Mbandi in partnership with the United Nations High Level Climate Champions (UNHLC), highlighted that approximately nine per cent of all global waste is generated by countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of this percentage, only 11 per cent is disposed of in properly designed and managed sanitary landfills, while most of the remaining goes to dump sites, leaving local residents with no choice but to burn the waste due to the lack of infrastructure.

The report also showcases the consequences of the open burning of waste, which produces emissions that have both direct and indirect health impacts. Many vulnerable groups find themselves disproportionately affected, including women and children, as well as those living on or around dumpsites and informal waste workers.  

Finally, the report outlines how the open burning of waste also generates short-lived climate pollutants, including methane and black carbon, both of which have been identified as contributing to climate change and are predicted to emit roughly 10 nine per cent global emissions.

At COP27, Dr Boumphrey is hoping to help the programme take its next steps after years of evidence gathering as well as two multidisciplinary, cross-sector global workshops, all building up to the implementation and action phase. She will be a key speaker at the launch of the multi-stakeholder partnership for the elimination of open waste burning from Africa, which is set to involve policymakers across the world, leading practitioners, NGOs, and industry partners working together to find long-term solutions.

Dr Boumphrey said: “The world has reached a crucial turning point, and climate-related matters must be attended to now if we are to secure our future. This is why I’ll be campaigning to raise awareness of the significant global challenge of open burning of waste at COP27.

“The COP27 is set to bring together world leaders and leading researchers to solve pressing environmental issues, and I hope the open burning of waste in Africa is one we can work together on. The report created by Engineering X in partnership with UNHLC highlights the dramatic human and environmental consequences of a lack of waste management system that not only affect African countries, but the rest of the world.

“There’s no quick fix. It’ll take systemic, transformational changes in the way African countries manage waste from changing mindsets to bringing about institutional, infrastructural and operational solutions that include informal waste workers and build on their expertise but I believe these will benefit populations across the world.”

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