The Circulate Initiative
Enhancing circularity through standardized implementation metrics, governance, and financing
Key takeaways from the ISWA World Congress 2022
By Juline Lew and Nurul Aisyah Suwandi
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 3 billion people on the planet lack access to adequate waste management services. With growing populations and increasing consumption, waste volumes in lower-income African and Asian cities are likely to double by 2030, necessitating an urgent response. However, if properly managed, waste can be an asset, and well-functioning waste management systems are key to the transition to a circular economy.
The linear economy, which follows the “take-make-dispose” model, is one of the main contributors to global climate change. An expanding climate crisis, a maturing regulatory environment focused on circularity and mounting pressure from consumers and investors has made it increasingly clear that circular practices will be central to a sustainable future. The transition to a circular economy depends on collaboration and transformation along the entire value chain to minimize waste production and encourage the reuse of resources as much as possible.
How to accelerate the transformation of waste management from linearity to circularity was one of the topics of discussion at the recent ISWA World Congress 2022 in Singapore, which brought together delegates from around the world, including solid waste management professionals, industry leaders, government officials and policymakers.
Standardized circularity metrics necessary to provide benchmarks for implementation strategies
Measuring circularity was the focus of “Circular and Low Carbon Cities (CALC)”, a session which highlighted the importance of establishing standardized metrics to benchmark the success of strategies designed to achieve the goals of a circular economy implemented across a range of city sizes.
Amongst the topics covered at the session, speakers shared case studies on how they have utilized evidence-based circularity metrics to measure the progress of waste prevention measures. The circularity metrics include the generation of livelihood opportunities, ensuring environmentally and financially sustainable development, equitability of the implemented strategies, amounts of waste reduced/reused, public awareness generated, government regulation to promote societal benefits, and zero-waste solutions. The metrics provide a holistic assessment of the programme’s success against a set of metrics that go beyond a quantification of the amount of waste prevented.
Primary data needed for the development of strategic waste reduction initiatives
The lack of primary data on countries’ and cities’ waste generation and waste reduction strategies has also posed a challenge to the implementation of circularity projects. Primary data is necessary to identify cities’ specific needs, the best strategies to reduce waste and encourage circularity, and provide benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of solutions. During the session, the UN-Habitat showcased its Waste Wise Cities Tool (WaCT), which guides users through seven steps to collect data on municipal solid waste (MSW) generated, collected, and managed in controlled facilities. Outlining the steps necessary to roll out a successful measurement process in cities, WaCT was developed in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11.6.1, an indicator which refers to the proportion of MSW collected and managed in controlled facilities out of total municipal waste generated by cities. Implemented in 74 cities to date, this tool provides an attainable first step for cities that are seeking to study the generation and flow of waste within the city.
Governments need to take the lead to transform waste management towards circularity
Every city is unique, with different waste compositions and plastics recycling supply chains. As such, defining local waste management systems is an important first step to determine the circularity solutions that would be most appropriate for a particular area. While there are abundant technological solutions and innovations for circularity and waste management available, the contextual nuances of waste management makes it difficult to plug and play solutions from one location to another.
Inadequate waste system governance was a common challenge brought up in the panel discussions at the congress. Many local governments are struggling to achieve successful waste management, with challenges that vary across markets. In Indonesia, for example, the fragmentation of waste management responsibilities between national and local governments, governance structures that do not facilitate financial sustainability and accountability of waste management, and weak enforcement of regulations on open dumping or burning of waste are all factors that can hinder progress. Countries should consider the governance setup, coordination and incentives against open dumping and burning of waste to build more robust waste management systems and increase their waste collection coverages.
Moreover, governments have to recognize the role of the informal sector in waste management and recyclables collection. Inclusive governance is necessary to ensure these informal waste workers are involved and empowered as waste management systems evolve. The Women in Waste policy paper, A Seat at the Table, outlines recommendations to enhance informal waste workers’ role in waste management and involve them in dialogues around the legally binding instrument for plastics.
Multi-stakeholder efforts required for successful waste management
National governments have a responsibility to ensure stable and sufficient funds for local governments to budget for waste management, on top of other priorities such as education and health. Moving towards circularity may also place a different demand on budgets, and this is where the private sector can contribute to the funds needed. Circulate Capital and R20 Foundation are examples of impact investors that help inject investment dollars into necessary infrastructure and new circular solutions that can be integrated into global supply chains.
The golden triangle, which refers to government, private sector and society, all have an indispensable role in establishing governance and financing for waste management. Cross-learnings and collaborations between cities and countries and between all stakeholders of society are imperative to build the technical knowledge needed to improve cities’ waste management systems and enhance circularity.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). (2015). The Mounting Problem: World's Cities Produce up to 10 Billion Tonnes of Waste Each Year, UN Study Estimates [Online]. Available at:
https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/mounting-problem-worlds-cities-produce-10-billion-tonnes-waste-each#:~:text=Despite%20of%20this%2C%20a%20staggering,grave%20environmental%20and%20health%20consequences (Accessed 29 September 2022).
UN-Habitat. (2021). Waste Wise Cities Tool [Online]. Available at: https://unhabitat.org/wwc-tool (Accessed 29 September 2022).
UN Statistics Wiki. (2020). Indicator 11.6.1 [Online]. Available at: https://unstats.un.org/wiki/display/sdgehandbook/indicator+11.6.1 (Accessed 29 September 2022).
Plastic Smart Cities. (2022). Waste Wise Cities Tool [Online]. Available at: https://plasticsmartcities.org/products/waste-wise-cities-tool#:~:text=campaign%20(WWCC).-,The%20Waste%20Wise%20Cities%20Tool%20is%20based%20on%20the%20monitoring,and%20managed%20in%20controlled%20facilities (Accessed 29 September 2022).
Systemiq. (2021). Building Robust Governance And Securing Sufficient Funding To Achieve Indonesia’s Waste Management Targets [Online]. Available at: (https://www.systemiq.earth/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Building-Robust-Waste-System-Governance-and-Securing-Sufficient-Funding_Final-Report_26Nov2021.pdf (Accessed 29 September 2022).