This is the first post of two that address the issue of waste management in global cities and megacities.I will try to resume some of my major findings during last two years. There will be a special event dedicated to waste management and global cities at the World Cities Summit 2012 and soon the whole program will be available - as far as I know top speakers are included.
My research was in the framework of the ISWA project “Globalization and waste management” which is going to be presented in Florence 2012 Conference (see the excellent web-site) for the first time. ISWA;s Task Force has worked in four different packages namely a. megacities and waste management b. informal sector as a global stakeholder c. global recycling markets and d. international aid tools and their utilization.
Although the project is still on - going and there is a lot of work to be done until we will have complete it, there are some key-issues that I have concluded, especially about global cities, which means cities that are highly interconnected in the globalization network. Some of the things I learnt have been already presented during ISWA 2011 conference in Daewoo, South Korea (see ISWA's knowledge base and search for megacities).
Studying the triangle “Globalization – Megacities – Waste Management” my major conclusion is that a waste management system in a global city or a megacity is much more than a local system because a. It is part of the global network of material flows b. It is highly affected by global consumerism trends and c. it is directly influenced by global regulations and initiatives related to waste management. Of course someone would easily complete that this is also true for other smaller or less globalized cities but this does not affect the core of the conclusion.
That complex dynamics between global and local markets, global and local governance, global and local stakeholders is a key issue for understanding waste management in global cities.
As a result in megacities and global cities institutional development, social support and participation and financial sustainability (or the Software elements of waste management) 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 neighborhoods and the appearance of “cities within the city”, especially to the poorest ones where inadequate waste management practices create serious health and environmental risks. Clearly, the Software elements control the social behaviour of citizens and thus they are the most important for the success of recycling, reuse and waste prevention programs.
It seems that a major barrier comes from the complex interactions between the hundreds stakeholders involved in a global city waste management. Another serious barrier comes from the lack of initiatives to integrate informal sector to waste management activities.
From those remarks, it is obvious that the overall performance of a global 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.
The problem might be more general. 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.
Consequently, engineering and logistic tools are not enough to plan and deliver waste management systems in global cities. Especially in a megacity, the overall waste management system should be considered as “complex system”, which means a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties (behaviour among the possible properties) not obvious from the properties of the individual parts.
Complexity theory and Complex Systems Science (CSS) is a relatively new field of research focused on systemic understanding, self-organization, irreducibility, emerging patterns and properties and non-linear behaviour. Complexity science has been rapidly evolved during the last 20 years for the study of complex physical, biological and social systems. Cities as a whole may be considered as emerging entities existing near a critical point of self organization, far from equilibrium and qualitatively different from their constituent residents and subsystems.
Waste management systems in global cities should be studied using complexity theory and complex systems science tools because:
- The overall performance of a megacity waste management system is the result of complex interactions between global and local stakeholders, global and local material flows, global and local recycling markets, global and local governance etc.
- Effective recycling, waste prevention and reuse programs are of high importance for a megacity since they improve self-resilience and relief waste management systems. However, those programs are directly linked with social behaviour and the emerging system performance is a result of thousands or millions daily interactions.
- In global cities and megacities, local patterns and heterogeneity are the rule in waste management and micro-local dynamics have an impact at the system performance through their aggregate effects but also because they influence urban change iteratively through local connections and impacts.
- In metropolitan areas there are a number of councils, utilities, regional and governmental authorities, NGOs, private sector companies, informal sector unions, municipal utilities etc. Each of these entities is operating according the rules of limited awareness and jurisdiction, and self-interest and with selected connections to other entities. The dynamics of stakeholders’ interaction in megacities cannot be predicted or modelled with the usual information tools
But is it any easy and practical way to manage Complexity in global cities? Or the ideas above are just theoretical approaches? The answer will arrive at the next post