Coming back from Durban...

This is a post written by David Newman, my good friend and contributor to this blog. I consider that David's thoughts below reflect our world in a sentimental but more that true mirror and I am sure that most of us, the EU and USA residents, will have similar thoughts many times, especially coming back from transition countries. Thanks a lot David - please enjoy it...

"Post - Durban reflections

We are living in a western microcosm which is destined to be surpassed by the energy coming out of places like Durban. Here is youth, vitality, poverty, the need and the desire to create wealth. We in Europe are old and wealthy and the paradigm is ending. And we are not willing to get up and move to where the new paradigm is, instead we sit in our roccaforte and protect our position- a position being eroded by the growth of the new world, in the same way it was 150 years ago by the growth of the USA.  We haven't learnt those lessons, even though we saw the rise of Japan, then China, and now Brazil, India, and parts of Africa.
Some may say that Europe always retained its supremacy despite the rise of the new economies- but this is a partial reading of history. Europe has remained wealthy because the south has failed to open its own economies to its own people. This has now changed.

The new Arab Spring is nothing but a desire to liberate the economy from imposed elite monopolies.  These elites have given their peoples education and expect their peoples to not see the lesson- that the economy is in the hands of few, the opportunities are limited, major industries are monopolised. Just as Europe was. Even selling fruit on the street was an offence in Tunisia. So these educated people want their share too, want to belong, to participate in the growth of their societies, to travel, to own homes, businesses and to enjoy the liberty of an open society.

And when they can't get into the economy they move- immense numbers of asians, africans and south americans have been and are moving now. It is the largest emigration we have seen in human history. Millions. Millions. Poor people but also people given that education and unable to find fulfillment in their own societies. Doctors, engineers, economists, artists, musicians. Depriving their home countries of intellects they so sorely need but that are shut out through repression and monopolisation of economic sectors. So idiots are in control because they belong to the elite. And they are corrupt.

So the courageous and the intelligent risk their lives on boats heading north and west across the Med; or hidden under lorries riding north through El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico. Such waste.
Can the uprisings in the Arab countries be linked to the economic decline of Europe ? In other words, having nowhere to go to seek work, as Europe declined, the arabs realised that above all in their own societies they were denied those same opportunities they sought in Europe ?

The world improves slowly but the steps forward are over the corpses of the poor, women, the disenfranchised, the repressed, the uneducated. Such waste. Such a daily tragedy.

David Newman"


What's the outcome of Durban regarding waste?

This is a valuable contribution from my good friend David Newman, ISWA's Vice - President who participated at the Durban Climate Change event  as ISWA representative. I think that it is really thoughtful and worth to read it carefully. Thnaks a lot David, your posts are highly appreciated not onlly by me but by my readers as well.

"The negotiation process on Climate Change which terminates today in Durban is both extraordinarily complex and equally boring. Delegates from 194 countries spend days working their way through stacks of paper to find fault with the wording of each sentence, opening excruciating discussions which have to end in compromise because the process can only go forward with 100% consensus.

Venezuela, in a session on CDM, remained silent as the Chair called the session to an end, only to stand up immediately afterwards to make an objection, thus hijacking the process. It is democracy gone mad.
The negotiating teams meet for about 18 hours a day, especially when their Ministers arrive to close off some of the issues. Yet each of them know that the wider process, that of approving a renewed Kyoto Protocol, is in any case momentarily blocked by vetoes from the USA and others.

Absurd alliances take place : the USA, Bolivia and Venezuela all argue against market mechanism rules, the USA because the rules are too restrictive, the latin Americans because they oppose markets !
In any case let's look at the wider issues

1) Investments in renewable energy have reached $240bn a year now. These will grow whether a new treaty is signed or not because nations (like Italy) have incentivated renewables. And their unit cost has fallen 40% over the last five years making them seriously competitive.

2) Investments are being made in sustainability in all sectors, from energy to water source protection to waste to agriculture, all in the direction of improving their environmental footprint. To take one example: while forest cover has fallen worldwide there has been a huge increase in tree cover and reclaimed lands from the Sahel desert areas of north Africa. A new green swathe has grown right across a belt reaching from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east which was unimaginable ten years ago.

3) Our waste industry. The protocol for the first time includes waste as a mitigation instrument for developed countries and this is a result which opens the waste sector to financing from mitigation funding in the future. While this is a victory for lobbying from ISWA and friendly countries, it also recognises the enormous CO2 reduction potential of the industry which until now had gone unrecognised. We must wait to see if the protocol enters into international law.

We will see what the future of Kyoto holds, it is not clear. But a process has been put in motion which will be hard to stop. And as the climate warms the urgency to reduce emissions will rise. Above all from those who emit most and ironically are worried about the lawsuits which will come from those who bear the consequences - read coal, petrol and the USA on one side, read victims of hurricanes, floods, drought and landslides on the other."


Ecological behaviour and commitment to the environment

This is from Science for Environment Policy, an EC service, issue 265, December 2011.
"Researchers have used the psychological concept of ‘commitment’, normally used to understand relationships between people, to investigate our relationship with the environment. The results indicate that an individual’s commitment to the environment is important in their ecological behaviour, for example, their willingness to use public transport and make sacrifices for the environment.

Human behaviour is central to the exacerbation, mitigation and adaptation of various environmental issues, particularly climate change. As such, many policymakers are seeking insight into the psychological processes that influence pro-environmental behaviour, in order to inform policies that address detrimental behaviours and promote positive behaviours.
The concept of ‘commitment’ is rooted in the theory of relationships with people. It essentially describes feelings of attachment and a long term orientation in thinking about the relationship. The theory proposes that an individual’s commitment to their partner is predicted by their satisfaction with the relationship, their investment in the relationship and the other alternatives that exist to this relationship.

This study took this concept of commitment to try to understand human relationships with the environment. It developed environment-specific measures of commitment and its three predictors: satisfaction, investment and alternatives. The satisfaction measure focussed on an individual’s reward from spending time in the natural environment and investment looked at the involvement and effort people put into the environment. The measure of alternatives investigated the presence of other ways in which people could enjoy themselves and spend time, other than in the natural environment.

The study examined the relationships between these concepts by analysing the scores of 248 university students in the USA on these measures. It also included several other relevant measures, such as environmental identity, which assesses the degree to which individuals associate themselves with the environment, general environmentally friendly behaviour, such as public transport use and buying ecological products, and willingness to sacrifice for the environment, which assessed an individual’s willingness to sacrifice their own needs in order to improve the environment.

The analysis revealed that both the participants’ who had satisfaction with the environment and invested in the environment were more likely to be committed to the environment.
However, their perception of alternatives was not related to commitment. Commitment to the environment does not mean that an individual is not attached to other activities and places, in the same way that romantic attachment excludes relationships with other people. Therefore the predictor of ‘alternatives’ may not be so relevant in the environmental context.

Further analysis indicated that individuals with commitment to the environment said that their behaviour was pro-environmental and that they make sacrifices for the environment.
The research identified some interesting relationships between humans and the environment, although none of them were proven to be causal, i.e. it is not certain that commitment leads to pro-environmental behaviour or willingness to sacrifice. However, a greater understanding of these concepts could eventually provide insight into what influences an individual to develop long-term commitment to the environment, rather than making short-term decisions based on one’s own needs. This could potentially inform policy that seeks to encourage long-term and committed relationships to the environment."

For more: Davis, J.L., Le, B. & Coy, A.E. (2011) Building a model of commitment to the natural environmental to predict ecological behaviour and willingness to sacrifice. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 31(3): 257-265.


Albina Ruiz: a waste side story!

This is a contribution by Alberto Huiman Cruz, from Lima, Peru, a colleague I recently met in Mexico. It is the story of the recently awarded Albina Ruiz. I have made a little search about her and I have to say that the results achieved by her efforts are really important, especially in terms of improvement of health conditions. Congratulations from my side as well.
"Albina Ruiz is not afraid of cleaning up garbage. Many of us take efficient waste removal for granted. Yet, in some parts of the world, refuse is not effectively managed. This has long been the case in Lima, Peru.

The problem was particularly severe in Lima’s northern district. In 1995, for example, its 1.6 million residents produced 600 metric tons of solid waste daily. Municipal authorities were only able to manage about half of this. The rest ended up strewn all over; it was found in the street, in the river, or in vast open dumps, invariably leading to higher incidence of disease, as well as feelings among the residents of discontent and decreased self-image.

The high levels of unemployment in the area also fueled these feelings. In order to make money, people who called themselves “recicladores” searched the dumps for recyclables that they could then sell, through an intermediary, to a recycling facility. This generated less than $2 a day for the recicladores, who wore no protective clothing and became targets of gang violence.

Albina Ruiz started her organization, Ciudad Saludable (Healthy City Group), to combat these issues. Based on ideas she originally presented in her university thesis, the organization develops waste removal and management systems that are effective and inexpensive. Through a micro-entrepreneurship model, these systems allow the recicladores to take charge of dealing with the refuse, thereby addressing their unemployment. Ruiz’s solution also involves coordinating with the public sector and increasing public awareness about the importance of waste removal.

In the last decade, Ciudad Saludable has positively impacted over 6 million people in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and India. Ruiz has also established two new organizations: Peru Waste Innovations, and Healthy Cities International, whose goal is to replicate Ciudad Saludable’s methods and successes globally. For her work, Ruiz was elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 1996.

David Nahmias, Ashoka’s Knowledge Team liaison to North and South America, helps coordinate Venture and Fellowship in these two regions; he describes Ruiz as one of Ashoka’s most impressive and inspirational Fellows.

“When I worked as Venture Coordinator in our Mexico office, Albina came to speak with our team there,” he said. “I was captivated by how she has managed to expand her micro-entrepreneurship model throughout the world, forge strategic partnerships with large corporations, and even influence national public policy in Peru and Brazil, all while speaking very humbly about her achievements. It was at that moment when I understood in real terms the amazing potential that Ashoka Fellows have to generate large-scale systems change around the world.”

Ruiz’s commitment to improving the lives of the working poor recently attracted the attention of The Global Fairness Initiative(GFI), which was founded with the goal of promoting fair and sustainable approaches to economic development. GFI presented Ruiz with the 2011 Fairness Award on November 8.

Two weeks later, Ruiz accepted the prestigious Albert Medal at the Royal Society of Arts in London, joining a long and distinguished list of innovative pioneers that includes Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Ashoka, GFI, and the Royal Academy are not the only organizations to recognize Ruiz’s innovation and passion. Her efforts have been commended by Avina, the Schwab Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, PBS, and the Clinton Global Initiative, among others. In addition, she is the author of several articles and books on the subjects of community planning and disease prevention.

Despite these successes and her international reach, Ruiz maintains her connections to her roots. She can still be found combing the beaches of Lima for trash to clean up, just as she did during her university days."


I am just 4,74 persons away!

After some weeks away, I am back to blog again. I just finished a long travelling schedule (actually I am on my way back home) and few minutes ago I was reading something really important, that I would like to share with my readers.

I am sure that most of you are familiar with the term "six degrees of separation". In case you are not, this is a study made in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram. He asked 296 volunteers to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb. He discoovered that on average, using 6 persons as intermediate points, they finally made it, although they had no idea of the address of the person. The result of the study was that our world, even in 1967, was interconnected. Using friends of your friends, with six steps on average, you can contact almost anyone worlwide!

A new study, recently completed and based on Facebook data analysis, says that in our era the average steps required are reduced from 6 to 4,74!

The sample was 721 million Facebook users, more than one-tenth of the world’s population. The findings were posted on Facebook’s site Monday night (see http://www.facebook.com/data) .

The experiment took one month. The researchers used a set of algorithms developed at the University of Milan to calculate the average distance between any two people by computing a vast number of sample paths among Facebook users. They found that the average number of links from one arbitrarily selected person to another was 4.74. In the United States, where more than half of people over 13 are on Facebook, it was just 4.37.

As the researchers conclude “When considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rain forest a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend.”

Just two comments from my side.

First the world is much more interconnected that we actually understand. And this is something that has not yet been utilized for the improvement of waste management, through massive social collaboration! As we have discovered working on the project "Globalization and waste management" with ISWA colleagues, it seems that interconnectivity and flow of ideas, trends and culture is a key-issue for the waste management practices in the most interconnected parts of our world, the megacities!

Second and last, this interconnectivity does not mean that the whole world is one. Changing the view, you can easily conclude that you will never reach the world without 5 more persons to act as intermediate media! Or, as Milgram said "the result could also be evidence of psychological distance: that we were actually, on average, five “worlds apart.”


A comment by Derek greedy

This is a comment I just received from my good friend Derek Greedy, which is also the President of CIWM. Thanks a lot Derek for your contribution and congratulations for your CIWM inauguration.

"Viewed the video with interest and content duly noted. However it doesn't get us away from the fact that the Greek economy is perhaps under more pressure than many of us. I recognise that you have your troubles and for that you are much in my thoughts but none of us our immune from the economic crisis that much of the world at large faces. A battle in which we are all involved and unless we tackle it together there will be many hard years ahead for all of us. No matter how we look at it we are now part of a global community. Being insular in our outlook is no longer an option."


A comment regarding the Greek Crisis

This is a comment regarding Greece and its economic crisis. It is a video - please spend some minutes to watch it. But before watching the video, please read carefully some lines.

I am sure that there are things to debate about the video. For sure, Greece and Greeks have their own, substantial responsibility for what is happening now.

But I am also sure that there are a lot of things that cannot be debated. As an example, Greeks are working much more hours than most of the EU citizens.

I dedicate this video to all those who consider Greeks as the "black sheep" of EU.

Even more I dedicate this video to those ones who might think that Greeks are like the lambs to the slaughter. At least, they have to think that slaughter in Europe is usually combined with German strength and arrogance, French incompetence to resist and late reaction and British criminal negligence for non - members of the former British Empire

As for those European leaders or citizens that consider Greece as the sick part of the EU, I strongly propose them to remember what Jesus has told:

"Medice cura te ipsum." (see Gospel of Luke chapter 4:23).

In English: "Physician, take care of yourself!"

Please enjoy the video:



Informal Waste Management Knowledge Hub!

I was really positively surprised when I visited the Informal Waste Sector Knowledge Hub. I think that it deserves a thorough reading of the many materials that are posted and I am asking my readers to visit it and have a look at:


It is really a very good initiative aimed to highlight the informal sector contribution to waste management worldwide and to deliver knowledge and tools to those who are interested about informal sector.

Although some of the ideas presented there need further discussion and more detailed assessment, we have to remember that we are living a tsunami of urbanization and this tsunami has the form of new urban informal settlements.

So even if someone does not like at all the idea of informal sector as a stakeholder in waste management, the issue is not ideological at all. More than 70% of the urban growth is happening informally so the waste management industry and the governing authorities must not ignore or underestimate the role of informal sector in waste management. Instead of the more or less arrogant confrontation that is the current dominant view, governments, municipalities and companies have to look closer and find ways to integrate informal waste management to more formal and effective approaches.

This is absolutely necessary for two reasons.

First, because informal sector contributes a lot to recycling and recovery authorities but also it contributes a lot to black market conditions and unhealthy activities which create health risks for urban dwellers.

Second, because informal sector activities are not something temporary or something that will be a short – term condition. With more than 280.000 people coming everyday to megacities, worldwide, informal settlements will be a permanent form of urbanization for many years. And this has to be addressed with the right political, social and financial initiatives.

Last but not least, although I am sure that many of my friends and colleagues will not like this statement, I guess that there is something more about it. The first wave of urbanization, 300 years ago, resulted to the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, which really affect our lives up to now.

The current second wave of urbanization seems like a tsunami comparing to the first one and I am sure that it will bring its own revolutions, through the power of social co-evolution in megacities, through the new instant and long-term connections of the poor incomers with permanent residents and urban markets. If someone shares this opinion, as I do, then the logical consequence is that in waste management a lot of innovation will come from those who need it more in order to survive and improve their life. From those that have to manage waste with limited resources and find resources from limited access to waste. Welcome to the Informal Silicon Valley…


Urban waste management and Climate Change adaptation

Speaking for waste management, the adaptation challenge is currently underestimated compared to the great importance that has been given to climate change mitigation issues. Taking into account that waste management is still out of the mainstream agenda of the climate change policy – makers and decision - makers, although there is evidence that sound waste management practices can deliver substantial carbon emission savings, the result is that very few measures and policies have been arrived dedicated to adaptation and waste management.

Worldwide, global cities recognize the importance of adaptation because as Barbel Dieckmann, the mayor of Bonn in 2007 put it “…cities are already experiencing flooding, water shortages, heat waves, coastal erosion and ozone-related deaths”. The lesson we learnt from the Katrina hurricane was that multiple failures of an aging and inadequate infrastructure, plus indifferent planning, sharply increased the death toll of a catastrophe that had long been predicted. And while cities are moving relatively fast to create adaptation strategies, as a kind of “reaction” to the aftermaths of Katrina hurricane, waste management is usually out of the adaptation agenda.

The importance of adapting the current waste management is high and it deserves more attention by urban planners and decision makers as well as international organizations, for many reasons.

First of all, current urban waste management systems are proven vulnerable day by day. Search a little bit at the Web and you will find lots of landfill floods and collapses due to hurricanes or extensive rainfall, collection systems collapsed or blocked for a certain period due to extreme weather events. Although for the time -being we do not have reliable data to consider, it seems that extreme weather events will become a rule (and not an exception, as it is now) for designing waste management systems in certain areas of the world.

Second, it seems that the most vulnerable waste management systems are the ones that happened to be in growing and transition megacities, where informal sector plays a certain role in waste management and infrastructure either is not in place or it is not adequate. In those urban areas, the environmental and health risks from a potential disaster related to waste management are really high and under certain conditions they might be proven more than local ones. Take into account that dumpsites, which are the dominant practice in those cases, are usually located at low levels and excavated with no plan and hydraulic protection and you will understand that this is a serious problem.

Third, even in developed and mature megacities, where infrastructure is in place, the collection systems remain vulnerable, facilities must be examined for their resilience under the new weather patterns and we still have the problem of new and old landfills. Old landfills, even if they are closed possess a serious risk, especially if they are located into floodplains. New and active landfills are by far the most vulnerable part of the waste management chain and their potential for environmental damage is really high, especially in the case of erosion or oversaturation.

Already, there are events even in developed countries that outline the serious impacts of the current underestimation of the importance of waste management adaptation strategies. As an example, 30% of 1064 Austrian landfills are in areas where flooding is a major risk. A 25.000 m3 old landfill was completely eroded during a 2005 flood of Alfenz River in Austria, resulted in water pollution events. And the famous Elbe River flood on 2002 created landfill and dumpsites erosion which contributed in heavy metal and arsenic contamination.

So it is time to change our attitude regarding the adaptation of waste management. There is one more reason about it. Mitigation efforts must be global and their global results will be long-term ones. But adaptation is something urgent that must be delivered locally and the results will be more or less immediate. In that view adapting waste management systems is within the spatial and temporal scale of human brain and of our societies’ understanding, which means is more achievable. And for awareness purposes, focusing resources and attention to adaptation strategies is the crucial link to demonstrate the importance of mitigation measures.

How to cope with this problem? It is neither easy nor simple, but there are some starting points.

First, we need to face urban waste management as a system and assess the region – city - site-specific vulnerability of it. Of course landfills, dumpsites and collection systems have to be studied in details since they are obviously the most vulnerable parts. But even before those physical elements of the waste management chain, we have to study the institutional framework in each area and the social – demographic factors related to waste management. Because actually the vulnerability map of any system will be the combination of geographical vulnerability with social – demographic factors.

Second, climate change and extreme weather events create a new diversification of regions and territories, according their vulnerability. This means that a. site selection criteria have to be updated and reflect this diversification and b. they have to be applied much stricter than they are applied now.

Third, we need to find a way to include the Low Probability – High Impacts events in the designing principles and procedures, according the expected climate change impacts in each area. This is also a challenge for studying the vulnerability of the current infrastructure in place. Appropriate risk assessment procedures should be developed for that purpose.

We need a road map to assess the adaptive capacity of urban waste management systems and to frame them within the overall city adaptation strategy. Emergency planning and medium term adaptation measures are definitely parts of the adaptation strategies and usually there have not been even discussed for urban waste management. Informal sector integration in waste management procedures might be required too.

Last but not least, it is obvious that diverting waste from landfills, using several parallel collection systems, improving recycling - recovery performance and introducing waste prevention initiatives will definitely relief the impacts from any extreme weather phenomena, especially the health and environmental impacts related to landfills and dumpsites. In that term, those measures are proven as the link between adaptation and mitigation strategies and they have to be even more upgraded than they already are for waste management policies and strategies.


The future of waste management is URBAN!

This is a short lecture I recently gave to an AIDIS event in Sao Paulo. The event was dedicated to the presentation of the excellent report of AIDIS "Waste Management in Latin America" and I really have to congratulate the organizers for the excellent report they presented. For more about AIDIS see at


For more about the event see at


I have to thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to contribute to a so important event and I want to ensure them that I will be on their side, available to contribute, whenever they ask for. Here are the thoughts I presented.

"...Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized region in the world, with its urban population expanding from 61 percent in 1975 to more than 78 percent in 2001. With increas¬ing urbanization—along with economic growth and rising consumption—comes greater waste generation. And the waste will continue to grow: several recent World Bank studies project that the region’s municipal solid waste will increase from 131 million tons in 2005 to roughly 179 million in 2030.

Urbanization brings high growth in population, in income and unpredicted spatial growth. Urban areas in Latin America are becoming a symbiosis of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, while allowing the rise of a new middle class.

Thus, urbanization goes together with a rapid increase of the urban GDP /capita income, with decrease of average household size, increased demand for dwellings and increased informal sector markets in all the urban life, including waste management as well. One thing is for sure: more waste is coming and it will be urban.

But urbanization has also another, usually hidden, side that we have just began to understand it. Big cities have lower environmental and energy footprints than smaller ones and much lower than rural areas. Urban conglomerations deliver more results (in GDP/ capita, in productivity, in energy use per capita) with less resource. Recently it has been found that there is a so- called “super-scale effect”: double the size of a city and you will have double plus 15% efficiency in energy used, GDP/capita or any resource use. Half the size of a city and you will have a half minus 15% efficiency. This means that big cities deliver more using less and this is something that is directly linked with the social context of urban life and not with the engineering and logistics of it.

Now it is the time to utilize this particular property of urbanism for the benefit of waste management. For many years we faced the problem of waste management trying to resolve it with engineering and logistic tools. And we were right because the first objective of waste management was and it still is to protect human health, taking the garbage away of the daily city life.

As long as we face SWM as a matter of appropriate storage, collection, transfer, treatment and disposal and the main effort was to minimise environmental and health impacts, engineering and logistic tools were sufficient to plan and implement waste management systems. But today, resource management and social behaviour are becoming an organic part of any waste management system and they are essential to address increasing recycling rates and better quality of recyclables, participation of industrial stakeholders, eco-design initiatives and closed loops of products and materials.

As a result of those trends, it is obvious that the governance issues of waste management (institutional development, social support and participation and financial sustainability) are becoming more and more important especially for the success of recycling, reuse and waste prevention initiatives. They are highly sensitive to the continuous change of the neighbourhoods and cities within the megacity, especially to the poorest ones where inadequate waste management practices create serious health and environmental risks.

Clearly, the governance issues elements control the social behaviour of citizens and thus they are the most important for the success of recycling, reuse and waste prevention programs.

From those remarks, it is obvious that the overall performance of a city waste management system results from continuous interactions between global and local markets, emerging social behaviour, city governance, global and local stakeholders, city growth etc. And those interactions are hardly described by the traditional waste management approaches which are based on engineering and logistics.

So now it is the time to include social behavior and participation as an organic part of waste management, knowing that without it all infrastructure design might be proven as useless. And now there are smart tools to do it.

One of the major barriers in appropriate waste management is the lack of appropriate information for organizing waste collection, street cleaning and recycling. New emerging solutions do emerge and I think the most interesting one is to use citizens as sensors. Using smart phones applications and relevant software tools we can now have real time monitoring of all municipal activities, involving citizens not only to monitor but also to participate in decision making. This is the new era of urban waste management, a management that will be based in active and real time participation of citizens and in that way we can also open the crucial issues of waste prevention and recycling.

Of course infrastructure will always be needed – we can avoid it no matter how successful recycling we will have. But it is also time to focus at the overall cycle of waste, including the substantial cost of logistics, which represent 60-80% of our expenses for waste management. So why not to have e.g. waste treatment plans nearby the city centers? Why not to have underground transfer stations and treatment facilities?

The future of waste management is urban because cities were always and still are the major source of innovation for our societies. And through events like the one we have today, we have the opportunity to be the catalyst of this innovation."


From LCA to Life Cycle Management

This is from Science for Environmental Policy, DG Environment News Alert Service, issue 252.

"Although life cycle assessment (LCA) is a widely accepted method for supporting decision-making, it can face difficulties when being translated into practical life cycle management. A recent case study on local waste management has led to the development of several principles to ensure that LCAs are understandable and applicable.

The EU recommends the use of LCA or life cycle thinking in the waste management plans of Member States. However, for LCAs to be successful in developing waste management plans they must be transparent, both in terms of their results and their links with policy practice.

The waste agency of Catalonia (Spain), commissioned the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change to explore the LCA of different waste management options, with the specific aim of examining whether it is preferable to treat waste in Catalonia or to export it for treatment. The research group analysed the process and compiled a set of principles to guide those undertaking LCAs to ensure they are understood and used by decision makers. Although focused on Catalonia, the study is general in its scope and does not depend on any specific local conditions, so its recommendations could apply to other regions as well.

Four waste management options were identified with different combinations of treatments (energy recovery, solvent recovery and landfill) and a choice of whether to export the waste or treat it within Catalonia. The authors estimated the environmental impact in terms of energy, the expenditure associated with transport and treatment of each type of waste, and developed a model for each management option, using LCA techniques to identify the maximum distance that the waste could be transported for treatment while managing environmental impact.

The approach, using four models, was adopted by the Catalan government as a scientifically robust and practical approach to waste management. On the basis of the experience gained in the project, the researchers developed the following recommendations for life cycle management, which could be applied to other regions and environmental policies:

‘Consensus beats reality’ principle – From the start, it should be acknowledged and understood that LCA can never completely represent reality and it will be affected by its assumptions and that the different stakeholders have preconceptions. Although LCA itself cannot be totally realistic, it is important to have consensus about the expectations placed upon it.

‘The three-thirds’ principle – To ensure LCA studies can be useful for, and correctly understood and interpreted by non-LCA experts, resources should be distributed as follows: one third to seek consensus with the client on the goal and scope of the LCA, one third to help the customer understand and use the results, and finally, one third to perform the LCA study itself.

‘Trust beats certainty’ principle – Scientific robustness is important in an LCA, but so is the decision-makers’ level of trust in the method and in the LCA practitioner. Trust must be in place if the LCA is to translate into effective life cycle management and social skills are needed.

‘Good enough is best’ principle – This addresses the issue of whether to base a decision on an incomplete or limited LCA. The study suggests that a suitable approach is to start by settling for simplified LCAs and allow the possibility of a full LCA if there is disagreement on the results.

1. See: http://faostat.fao.org/default.aspx
Source:Fullana i Palmer. P., Puig, R., Bala, A., Baquero G., Riba J., Raugei M. (2011) From Life Cycle Assessment to Life Cycle Management: A Case Study On Industrial Waste Management Policy Making. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 15(3):458-474.

Contact: pere.fullana@esci.es"


2012 +...Maybe the future has already arrived

This is a very interesting article from my good friend David Newman, ISWA's Vice - President and director of ISWA Italia. He is always thinking the broad landscape and provides thoughtful insights about our future. You can find more about David in a very interesting self-description he has written at:


Thanks a lot David for this contribution - my good readers please enjoy it.

"When the financial crisis broke in 2008 I predicted several events whcih have since come to be. I also got some predictions startingly wrong. For example, I predicted that the crisis would lead to several countries declaring bankruptcy, to heavy social unrest, to widespread unemployment, to military style repression on the streets of countries considered democracies. Most of this has come to pass, in one or several countries. Among those that I predicted would survive relatively unscathed was Greece. How wrong can you be ?

Here’s some more predictions three years down the road and looking forward into 2012.

It is unlikely governments will act willingly to drastically reduce the debt burdens. Therefore the banks and the speculators will act for them, forcing countries
like Italy into insolvency (don’t forget, in 1992 the UK went through the same turmoil) and imposing thereafter economic policy. It will be painful. Average standards of living will fall by about twenty percent over the next five years.

Germany will not continue to bail out the weaker countries- France cannot afford to. Spain is on the road to financial stability, Portugal is turning around, but
Ireland, Greece and Italy are bankrupt. How the Eurozone will deal with this is the big unknown but I doubt it will lead to countries leaving the Euro, rather a restructuring of their debts under a programme agreed with other Euro nations, the IMF and the major banks. Forget retiring at 60. More like 70.

Obama risks losing the next election. One of my predictions in 2008 was that he would probably be a disappointment and that the Copenhagen Climate Change meeting in 2009 was his first real testing ground- for the progressives amongst us he has shown himself to be a charismatic failure.
America will not default, nor will it fall into much of a deeper recession. If I were to invest anywhere in the world right now it would the USA.

BRICs + Turkey + Korea
They are laughing all the way to the bank in Brazil, India, Indonesia, China, Turkey and a few other fast growing nations- not everything is working positively but the crises of Europe and the USA are a long way away. Why ? precisely because many of these nations adopted ten years ago the strict public spending regimes Europe and the USA failed to adopt but preached for everyone else ! These countries will grow quickly based on export demand for their products but above all on internal domestic demand. Goldman Sachs estimates by 2020 over 800 million people around the world will join the middle classes, and they all will be from these countries. The environmental conseqeunces are devastating, both in terms of resources consumed and
waste produced.

Then there are some exceptions- Australia, with its rich mineral resources, seems to be in a (rich) world of its own; South Africa and much of black Africa is growing rapidly although their economies are still too small to influence international markets and events and grinding poverty and corruption is still the norm.

And finally there is the Middle East. Two events this year will make ground- breaking changes to the stalemate of antagonism and hatred there.

The first is the Palestinian declaration of independence which will happen this month at the UN. The world will finally be divided between those who recognise and those who do not recognise the Palestinian state. And the political consequences are enormous although volatile.

Secondly, the gas and oil fields found off the Israeli Mediterreanean coast finally give this country energy independence and that means independence from agreements with its neighbours. This may play out in a more relaxed Israeli approach to regional politics, or an even more aggressive approach.

You might say there is a third event, the Arab Spring. And this is so, but who knows how it will evolve ? I am not willing to make a fool of myself by predicting the growth of peaceful, democratic nations that make peace with Israel and live happily ever after; nor do I think Al Queada will take over. But in between there are so many variables in each nation that a prediction would be foolish.

We will survive this period of turmoil and perhaps, in ten years time , come out of it with greatly strengthened economies. Who will lead the pack will be those nations are to change their spending patterns rapidly to turn investments into new technologies and away from financing public debt. Korea is a model. In 2009 it took the decision to invest $80 billion in infrastructure, clean energy, new technologies, and today is the Asian powerhouse after China. But it could afford to do this because in the 1990s it sorted out its bloated public sector, its over-leveraged and corrupt banks, its public finances. Why didn’t we learn this lesson too ?


Impact of landfill caps on leachate emissions – an Austrian case study

This is from "Science for Environment Policy - DG Environment News Alert Service" issue 251.

"Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, which consist of everyday consumer items, are potential long-term sources of emissions that could threaten the environment and human health if they are not managed carefully after closure. New research has presented a methodology to estimate future emission levels for closed MSW landfills and the impact of different aftercare strategies.

Globally, landfilling is the main method for disposing of solid waste. Highly industrialised countries, such as the US, the UK and Finland, extensively depend on landfilling their waste without any pre-treatment. As MSW landfills are possibly long-term sources of emissions, these sites need to be managed beyond closure.

According to the EU Landfill Directive1, which took effect in 1999, landfill operators have to continue managing sites after closure as long as the authority considers the landfill not likely to present a hazard to the environment any more.
The researchers used an Austrian MSW landfill in Breitenau as a case study to evaluate emission levels from the site and to demonstrate the long-term environmental effects of installing a final cover to prevent emissions. This site was closed in 1989 and was capped with layers of gravel (0.2 metres) and sandy silt (0.9 metres). The temporary cap was removed after 20 years (in 2009) and a composite lining system was installed as the final cover. The study focused on one landfill compartment, which contained around 35,000 tons of MSW.

Leachate emissions decrease very slowly and may have environmental impacts for centuries to come. The approach to evaluate potential future emissions was based on a comprehensive assessment of the state of the landfill and included analysis of monitoring data, investigations of landfilled waste, and an evaluation of containment systems and site-specific factors, such as climate. Future emission levels were modelled and site-specific predictions of leachate emissions were presented.

The results suggest that leachate concentrations increased considerably at the site when there was a change in the water flow pattern of the waste during final cover construction. Specifically, the concentrations of leachate pollutants chloride and ammonia-nitrogen increased from 200 to 800 milligrams per litre (mg/l) and 140 to about 500 mg/l, respectively. It is found that a period of intensive flushing after the change of the water flow pattern and before the final cover installation would have reduced the amount of leachable substances within the landfill and substance concentrations in the leachate would decrease to 11 mg/l of chloride and 79 mg/l of ammonia-nitrogen within 50 years.

A decline in water infiltration due to the installation of an impermeable top cover may lead to high substance concentrations in the leachate for centuries (above 400 mg of chloride per litre and 200 mg ammonia-nitrogen per litre), but with low associated annual emission loads (below 12 kg of chloride and 9 kg of ammonia-nitrogen per year). However, a gradual decrease in the cover’s performance may be expected without cover maintenance and would be associated with higher emission loads of a maximum of 50 kg of chloride and 30 kg of ammonia–nitrogen.
The methodology can be applied to other closed landfill sites to illustrate the effect of different aftercare strategies on the landfill pollution hazard. The researchers caution that emission models should be treated as tools to demonstrate the effect of different landfill conditions and not as deterministic forecasts of the future.

1. See: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:1999:182:0001:0019:EN:PDF

Source: David Laner, D., Fellner, J. & Brunner, P.H. (2011) Future landfill emissions and the effect of final cover installation – A case study. Waste Management. 31 (7):1522-1531

Contact: d.laner@iwa.tuwien.ac.at "


ISWA: Knowledge base free for all!

What is the value of knowledge? What is the difference between private and public knowledge? What is the relationship of knowledge to conscious? How can we know? Is knowledge valuable because of its role in practical reasoning?

These are some of the daunting questions that philosophers ask about the nature of knowledge.

No matter what your answer is, ISWA created what is called ISWA Knowledge Base. And I am sure that all ISWA members and followers are as proud as I am for that initiative!

Just visit http://www.iswa.org/en/525/knowledge_base.html and you will find a free for all - open access waste management library that already contains 863 documents from different resources, including a lot of ISWA publications and technical documents. And soon it will contain at least double. You know why?

First, because the open access library is fed with materials from at least 4-5 ISWA conferences per year.

Second, because ISWA is working closely with several other international institutions to promote interesting waste management publications and make them available through the Knowledge Base.

And third, because ISWA invites everyone to contribute to the Knowledge Base with technical and scientific papers. Every author can provide materials related to waste management, of course except advertising ones.

The concept behind ISWA’s Knowledge Base is simple: in a globalized world, where waste management is becoming one of the most challenging problems and scientific knowledge is produced simultaneously from thousands different sources, a free for all digital library is the minimum we can do to provide know-how to the ones that need it more!

In other words, ISWA serves the Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Such “open access” thinking is what powers internet phenomena such as Wikipedia, which currently contains more than three million articles, and Creative Commons which allows users to find artwork that they can legally reuse. Recently, it is also the justification behind academic sharing, such as the OpenCourseWare consortium and other smaller projects sharing academic work.

Last but not least: ISWA should promote Knowledge Base and make it the WASTEPEDIA of the web – I am sure it can be done and thousands of people will contribute to that. Let’s do it…


Coming back from Napoli

I just finished a presentation I delivered to “Summer School: Biological and Thermal Treatment of Municipal Solid Waste” that took place in Napoli, Italy, 2-6 May 2011. This is a summer school organized in the framework of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate ETeCoS3 (www.internationaldoctorate.unicas.it )

I really enjoyed the spirit of the event. Although I did not followed all presentations, I recognized high level - expertise presentations, thoughtful questions and answers, and a feeling that those new researchers are trying to dig deeper than the surface of their science and they have time and the capacity to do it.

I am really thankful to my friend and coleague David Newman (ISWA’s Vice- President) for suggesting me to the organizers. Special thanks to Giovanni Espozito and Flavia Liotta, both from University of Cassino for their efforts to arrange all logistics and their hospitality.

Best regards to (hopefully) new friends Eric, Piet and Francois.

My presentation will be soon available to my Scribd Account.

Last but probably not least: Napoli is still full of small dumpsites, even in the historical center - the waste management problem has not yet been resolved and according the discussions I had, it will be come event worst within next year because the landfills that now serve 60% of the waste will be come completely saturated...


Waste Management 2030+

This is an article I prepared for the magazine Waste Management World. It is based on my key-note lecture at ISWA´s conference in Lisbon, October 2009.

The purpose of the article is to outline the major trends and challenges that will shape the future of waste management for the next few decades. Although in our complex and unpredictable world ‘prediction is very difficult, especially about the future’ (Niels Bohr), there are certain trends and facts that more or less create the ‘bigger picture’ in which the waste management industry will evolve. Interestingly, discussion of these trends has not up till now directly linked them with waste management – at least not according to the author’s knowledge.

Putting these trends together and considering the consequences they will have for waste management, it is clear that new challenges are emerging, and the current situation must be seen in a different way. Our waste management systems and our market conditions, even at their best, are incapable of handling the growing amounts of waste globally. So unless a new paradigm of global cooperation and governance is adopted, a tsunami of uncontrolled dumpsites will be the prevailing waste management method, especially in Asia.

The whole article can be found at:


I hope you will enjoy it

ABRELPE is getting recognized as a key-stakeholder in Brazil

With great pleasure I visited Brazil once more, as an invited key-note speaker for ABRELPE´s seminar on waste management technologies.

Every time I come to Brazil I feel a vibrating country, people with great expectations and hopes, a booming market and a growing waste management sector. The last is certainly reflected to the great participation and publicity ABRELPE´s events have gained, with new records achieved year by year.

This time, the event organized was dedicated to the new waste management policy, a real revolutionary approach and one of the most progressive waste management laws worldwide. Reverse logistics, shared responsibility during the product life cycle, a waste hierarchy approach and integrated waste management plans countrywide are just some of the key - points that have already started to be discussed in Brazil.

The event was a big success and ABRELPE utilize it in order to present the unique publication PANORAMA 2010, which includes a detailed presentation of waste management activities in brazil and their benchmarking year by year. It also includes a summary in English and Spanish, so it is pretty useful for anyone who is interesting in Brazilian situaton regarding waste management. The whole publication can be found at:


PANORAMA 2010 and the whole event were covered with great publicity. frankly, it seems that Carlos Silva Filho, ABRELPE´s managing director has gone a long way forward and now ABRELPE is not just a well placed stakeholder within waste management community - it is becoming the key-stakeholder and the main reference for waste management activities in the country. Congratulations Carlos and I wish ISWA to have more members like ABRELPE.

Needless to say that the Brazilian hospitality was as always great, which makes me again waiting for the next opportunity to visit Brazil.


Sustainable landfill concepts from a practicioner's view

This is paper written by Haris kamariotakis and me.

It was presented and discussed at ISWA Master Class for sustainable landfills, October 2009 in Lisbon. The Master Class was organized by ISWA Working Group on Sanitary Landfills, which is chaired by ny good friend Derek Greedy.

I think its view was really appreciated by the participants.

I hope you will enjoy it too.

You can find it at http://www.scribd.com/doc/52390003/Sustainable-Landfill-Concept

Megacities and waste management: A challenge for 21st century

This is a paper presented at th recent ISWA Conference in Hamburg, November 2010.

Its purpose is to present the challenge of waste management for the emerging megacities of the developing world and transition countries and to outline major issues that have to be further elaborated in order to create sustainable patterns in waste management.

Megacities face tremendous environmental challenges and threats for human health. In this framework the role of waste management is becoming more and more crucial both for the daily life as well as for the long to medium term sustainability of megacities. The challenge of a successful waste management in megacities is one of the most demanding for public authorities and the waste management industry.

This paper outlines some of the major characteristics of megacities that substantially affect waste management activities like their rapid growth, the symbiosis of wealth and poverty, the role informal economy, governmental and institutional issues and their major role in the globalization process.

Then it focuses on how the characteristics of megacities create certain conditions and implications for waste management depending on the megacity growth profile.
Special importance is given to the role of the informal sector and the experiences related its integration to waste management systems. While there is no certain way for a successful waste management approach, there are things that must be avoided and they are presented in a Failure Receipt. Also, some generic suggestions are made on how to increase the possibilities of a successful approach.

Finally, it is proposed a view and certain questions that must be answered in order to understand how sustainable waste management can be created within the triangle megacities – globalization – waste management.

The paper can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/52389719/Metropolitan-Sustainable-Development-and-Waste-Management-in-the-21st-Century-Full-Paper