More than half of the world’s population now living in rapidly developing megacities, and growing consumer societies now producing more waste than ever before, we are now facing a “waste emergency.”
As many as 3.5 billion people live without any formal waste management, meaning that these people are left to deal with their own waste. Often this will result in people burning their waste in open fires. According to the researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, US, a mass proportion (40%) of the world’s waste is disposed of in this way, creating uncontrolled emissions of highly toxic pollutants from the hazardous waste.
Furthermore, another 40% of the world’s waste is left in open dump sites, which are highly dangerous because of the problems and risks of landfill gas exploding, pollutants seeping into the natural watercourses and the vermin and diseases that come from such unsanitary conditions.
Unmanaged waste disposal sites and the problems of no formal waste management is no doubt a huge problem for the communities surrounding the sites, but the economic opportunities from recycling, repair and composting are staggering. The formal recycling sector is a £330bn global industry, but an informal recycling sector is rapidly growing and is thriving. The informal recycling sector is diverting up to a quarter of waste in cities from the developing world such as Lagos. These operate at no cost to the public, giving a net positive outcome to the economy, whilst helping both the environment and millions of people by employing them.
With such a massive “waste emergency” is it time for our industry to stand up and be counted?