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‘Waste Management Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean’ finds that the region inadequately disposes of 145,000 tons of waste every day.

Organic waste represents approximately 50 percent of all waste produced in the region but is the least managed, contributing to generation of GHGs, including methane.

The report identifies improved organic waste management and movement towards a circular economy as potential opportunities for the region to transition to more sustainable waste management.

9 October 2018: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) has released a report that finds one-third of all waste generated in cities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is not properly disposed of or managed, threatening the health of the region’s population and polluting its air, soil and water. The report observes that open dumpsites generate greenhouse gases (GHG) that can negatively impact the region’s agriculture, biodiversity and tourism.

The report titled, ‘Waste Management Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean,’ finds that the region inadequately disposes of 145,000 tons of waste every day. Although LAC has improved its waste collection coverage, the uncollected waste affects more than 40 million people, particularly those living in impoverished or rural communities.

The report further highlights challenges posed by LAC’s management of organic waste. This type of waste represents approximately 50 percent of all waste produced in the region but is the least managed. As a result, the region’s unmanaged organic waste contributes to generation of GHGs, including methane, and degrades the quality of other recyclable materials in the garbage.

Waste management is a key step in strengthening climate action and protecting human health.

LAC’s linear economy system, which is based on a “throwaway scheme,” poses another challenge to sustainable waste management. Only ten percent of the region’s waste is recycled, reused or recovered, underscoring its limited progress in transitioning towards a circular economy. By 2050, the report predicts that 671,000 tons of urban waste will be generated daily by 2050.

The report identifies improved organic waste management and movement towards a circular economy as potential opportunities for the region to transition to more sustainable waste management. UNEP also recommends that countries close open dumps to minimize effects on human health and the environment. Additional recommendations focus on developing laws and policies on waste management, promoting public and private investments and raising awareness on sustainable waste management and the circular economy.

Such actions are in line with global commitments under both the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change. SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) includes targets focused on environmentally sound management of all waste through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse (targets 12.4 and 12.5). Under the Paris Agreement, countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) can include action on waste management as part of efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

UNEP launched the report during the XXI Forum of Ministers of Environment of the region, taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 9-12 October. UNEP’s Regional Director for LAC, Leo Heileman, urged LAC countries to “consider waste management a top political priority” and a key step in strengthening climate action and protecting human health. [UNEP Press Release] [Publication: Waste Management Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean (in Spanish)]

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