Working towards zero waste in our cities

The Sustainable Waste Systems Network supports cities to improve waste management planning and operations, implementing solutions that are locally compatible, sustainable, affordable and resilient, and maximize GHG emission reductions, ensuring a foundational baseline of universal collection and safe disposal that enables a more sustainable approach to waste management in Global South cities. Focusing on strategy and infrastructure development and capacity building, and on creating and upskilling jobs and economic opportunity, the network serves to accelerate city action, including the required infrastructure and operational good practices to progress towards zero waste strategies. 

Cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America are forecasted to double the amount of waste produced over the next ten years, further exacerbating existing challenges in waste collection and safe disposal. This network recognises the financial, technological, operational and policy challenges of building new waste infrastructure and moving towards a proactive, planning-based waste system and supports cities to move along a path that will eventually lead to a future without waste.  

Focus areas:
  • Universal collection
    Enhancing waste infrastructure development, technology evaluation, national and sub-national policy evaluation, deploying cost-effective and efficient waste collection and transportation services
  • Safe disposal and treatment
    City strategies and policies designed to manage disposal and recovery facilities such as landfills, composting, landfill gas utilisation, materials recovery facilities (MRFs) etc., eliminating open dumping, open burning and waste leakage, improving disposal quality, developing organic waste recovery infrastructure, improving recycling and segregation;
  • Informal sector integration
    Increasing collection, recycling and composting, while creating jobs for vulnerable groups and providing a cost-effective waste management system
  • Finance
    Ensuring financial sustainability of new waste infrastructure; 

The lead city for the network is eThekwini (Durban).

The network is ideally positioned to support members in adapting and replicating positive experiences in efforts such as improving waste collection, intermediate treatment and safe disposal in a way that is financially sustainable, climate-friendly and inclusive. Some examples of note include:

Accra, Ghana

In 2018, the city dramatically revised its relationship with informal waste collectors, by recognising them as part of municipal waste operations. Through formalizing the positions of 850 workers, the city managed to increase waste collection by 10%, especially in low-income areas, and improve recycling, with lower capital requirements compared to using large waste trucks and centralised infrastructure. Registered waste collectors collect waste using small motorised tricycles within assigned areas, and then take the waste to the transfer station where they sort recyclables before residual waste is transported to disposal.

São Paulo, Brazil

Between 2018 and 2019, the city inaugurated five composting patios across the city to collect organic waste from nearby fruit and vegetable markets. City workers encourage market stands to collect their segregated organic waste in specific bags. The bags are then collected by the municipality at the end of the day and transported a short distance to the closest composting patio. Between January and August of 2020, a total of 7,100 tons of organic waste was collected and treated, generating 1,400 tons of compost, which was then used as fertilizer in municipal parks.    

eThekwini (Durban), South Africa

eThekwini is the lead city of the network and is a best practice in landfill management in Africa. The overall approach includes using a landfill as an asset for the city, rather than an impediment. Reforestation efforts following the use of the landfill area are driven by local, vulnerable communities, generating jobs and resulting in exhausted landfills becoming conservation areas for local wildlife. Leachate treatment, normally one of the most expensive aspects of landfill management, is achieved through reeds and other plants are grown on-site. Through additional environmentally-friendly practices, the city has managed to turn landfills into carbon sinks that contribute to the achievement of a carbon-neutral future.