Waste management: Asia can’t afford to make the same mistakes as Europe
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Waste management: Asia can’t afford to make the same mistakes as Europe

AS Asia’s cities continue to boom and the standard of living increases across the region, the head of Antwerp’s inter-municipal waste management organisation urged Asia-Pacific not to make the same mistakes as Europe when it comes to waste management.

Speaking at the annual International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, Philip Heylen warned that waste is set to double in the next 10 years and the driving force behind this is the increased standard of living on Asia. As the quality of life goes up, the amount of waste generated goes up with it.

“On one hand we all want to have a better life for our children and our grandchildren, but on the other hand, in Europe we have know about it for several decades, if you get the better quality of life, you also have an increase of waste,” Heylen said.

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According to the World Bank, global municipal solid waste generation levels are expected to increase to approximately 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025. This represents a significant increase in per capita waste generation rates to 1.42 kilograms per person per day.

But that’s a global average, and the projected generation for people in East Asia is expected to go well beyond that, as high as 4.3 kg per person per day in some areas.

The increase in living standard and consumption is compounded by continued migration to cities.

Projections from the United Nations show that urbanisation, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, with close to 90 percent of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa.

It is because of this that the role of cities in waste management is becoming increasingly important. Heylen believes in the next five to ten years, the world’s mayors will be leading the cause of sustainable waste management and will hold the key to successful policymaking.

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Man carrying a bag containing plastic recyclable items as he walks on a water pipe next to a sewage drain canal full of garbage in the Taimur Nagar slum area in New Delhi. May 30, 2018. Source: Dominique Faget / AFP

While the responsibility is a big one, Heylen urges policymakers not to fall into the same traps the western world has fallen victim to.

“Don’t make the same mistakes as they did in Europe,” he warns. “Don’t believe political leaders who say climate change has no impact and is not taking place. And be aware that you can make a difference.”

President of ISWA, Antonis Mavropoulos, agrees that cities in the region will be what makes or breaks the future of waste management and will determine if it is handled sustainably.

“The future of waste management is going to be formulated, not in Silicon Valley, but in Southeast Asia. It’s Asean megacities that will define the new practices because they have the biggest need to,” Mavropoulos said.

“We follow very closely what’s happening in innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, but we also must follow closely the inventions and innovations, both social and technical, happening in Asean megacities.”

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Following the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warning of the dire impacts expected imminently, the need for such innovation has never been more pressing, the experts said.

The population of Asean is projected to increase to 650 million by 2020. More than half of these people will live in urban areas. Collaboration between organisations like ISWA and local authorities is key in ensuring environmental targets are met.

“The future of the world is going to be played out in the cities,” Mavropoulos said. “Countries will have less of a role. The big cities with 15 to 20 million people will be the ones that determine the future of the waste management sector.”