City waste disposal/treatment

As municipal solid waste quantities and treatment costs increase, cities in some developing countries have formed collaborations with various stakeholders to deliver bespoke waste management services.

A lot of thought goes into executing a city’s waste disposal and treatment systems, with cost understandably being a crucial factor. For instance, cost determines manpower, number/type of trucks to use, timing and frequency of collection, location of treatment facilities, and many other considerations that have been elaborated on here. The nature of the city also adds a level of complexity to the waste collection/treatment equation. In an earlier post, waste collection in the Northern English city of Leeds was compared to that of the North-Central Nigerian city of Jos. The well-developed road networks in the Leeds city example allow for easier bulk residential waste collection. Conversely, waste collection in densely populated residential areas with small in-roads as found in many Nigerian cities is more likely to be achieved using smaller collection units such as customised wheel barrows. So, which waste disposal or treatment method(s) can be adopted in developing countries?

Short answer: It depends – what works for one country may not be suitable for another since waste characteristics, city layouts, stakeholders, and institutional frameworks differ. Provide bespoke waste management services by observing other countries' best-practices.

Long answer: There are a number of successful and acceptable municipal waste disposal/treatment methods that developing countries can adopt. For example, countries that generate large quantities of packaging wastes (e.g., plastics) can generate energy by incinerating such high calorific value wastes. Alternatively, for countries whose waste is predominantly organic in nature (e.g., food scraps, agricultural residues), anaerobic digestion or composting are likely more suitable - case in point, the highly populated city of Dhaka (Bangladesh), where the problem of high organic-based municipal solid waste is being solved by the creation of commercially competitive compost. Similarly, the adoption of anaerobic digestion technologies, though relatively more expensive compared to composting, may fit into existing waste management strategies in the Nigerian cities of Lagos, Sokoto, and Delta. This is because biogas production is not unfamiliar in these cities. Based on a recent study by Osunmuyiwa and Kalfagianni (2017) with an apt title, “Transitions in unlikely places: Exploring the conditions for renewable energy adoption in Nigeria”, some key points may be noted by cities interested in implementing more sustainable technologies:

Become financially independent: It is often necessary for individual cities to generate their own income (aka Internally Generated Revenue, IGR) as this gives cities more freedom to pursue their own targets. This is especially true for countries like Nigeria, where an over-dependence on crude oil revenues can stifle environmental and socio-economic growth. Potential revenue sources include various taxes, fines, responsible rent and/or sale of government assets.
However, revenue generation from these alternative sources can be like running an obstacle course race, a fact that non-partisan organisations like the Nigeria Governors’ Forum have highlighted (pages 20–21). Moreover, half-measure control mechanisms are unlikely to suffice – in other words, go all out or don’t even bother.

Be a good team player: In other words, forming collaborative relationships for mutual benefit. The aforementioned study observed that for cities that generated the most renewable energy, relationships between both renewable and non-renewable energy research institutes had been formed to improve each other’s best practices. In the case of waste management, partnerships between communities, governments, private industries and international organisations may be one of the best ways of achieving goals or improving commercial attractiveness of waste products, as earlier seen in the case of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Create a culture of proactivity: Good institutional frameworks are required to help set realistic targets, create energy policies and establish clear regulations.

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