7 Lessons to Help Cities Get Funding for Solid Waste Management Projects

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Cities in Asia produces between 450,000 and 760,000 tons of waste every day – more than any other region in the world.

Many of them face significant challenges in managing their solid waste, such as poor awareness and adoption of effective solid waste management (SWM) practices, inadequate funding for collection and storage facilities and lack of technical capacity and institutional coordination.

Proper SWM is crucial to ensuring the sustainable development of cities. It prevents not only the spread of diseases but also soil, air and water pollution, and biodiversity loss. Therefore, SWM is a primary focus area for the CDIA team in its collaborations with cities in Asia and the Pacific.

Urban Development Specialist Brian Capati offers seven considerations for cities who want to develop and implement sustainable – and bankable – SWM projects.

  1. Effective SWM requires a holistic approach

SWM involves much more than emptying dumpsters or picking up litter; it is a complex process that requires integrated and specialized efforts at several key phases, including collection, sorting, treatment, recycling, final disposal and closure. Municipal officials also need to ensure that the whole city and its population are fully covered by SWM services – to fully reap the benefits of improved health and environmental preservation.

In order to plan a proper and effective SWM project, comprehensive preparation and data collection are essential.

For example, cities can monitor the type and volume of waste produced and survey citizens’ waste disposal habits. This data would then help them make informed decisions on how to optimize waste collection, such as allocating funds for waste collection trucks or upgrading materials recovery facilities.

Another early step cities can take to shape their projects is to assess their SWM legislation and ordinances and identify potential improvements that could, for example, make household disposal, collection, or landfill treatment of waste more efficient and sustainable.

A holistic approach will also involve frequent and direct consultations with all stakeholders – local authorities, technical experts, waste collectors, waste pickers and all citizens including the most vulnerable groups – to build collective ownership of the project. This ensures that stakeholders have a chance to provide inputs to the design of the SWM projects and participate actively in the project implementation by contributing to waste segregation, clean up or other similar activities.

And just as important, it can instill a culture of waste management within the city, encouraging all community members to adopt sustainable waste management practices such as composting, repurposing items, and avoiding single-use plastics.

  1. SWM projects won’t get funded without available land

“No project can go forward without the land for new or updated infrastructure being available,” Brian says. “Ensuring land availability should come first when developing any SWM project since it is a time-intensive and socially sensitive process.”

And what makes land selection complicated is the “significant criteria” a site must fulfill. For example, cities selecting land for a new sanitary landfill would not only need to find a site that is set apart from fault lines, residences, water sources and sensitive biodiversity areas – but it would also need to be far removed from any local airports, to reduce the chances of bird aircraft strike hazard.

Installing new SWM infrastructure may also require signing inter-municipality agreements and passing joint legislations with neighboring communities – milestones that can take a good amount of time and diplomatic leveraging to achieve.

Failure to secure suitable land, and proactively mitigate any red tape that may come with the process early in the project preparation process will therefore make it very unlikely that a project will be picked up by a downstream funder.

  1. SWM projects must address climate change to get funding

Climate change considerations are now a non-negotiable component of SWM infrastructure projects – which means that cities stand a much higher chance of receiving project funding if they can clearly display the intended climate co-benefits of said project.

Obtaining science-based or user-specific climate information such as changing rainfall regimes, heat, and humidity and their impacts can be one of the first steps to consider climate risks and opportunities associated with solid waste management. It is important to highlight that solid waste management facilities are increasingly becoming vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Furthermore, cities need to calculate the potential emission reduction they could achieve by optimizing the routes traveled by their fleets of disposal and garbage trucks. They can then compare these expected emission figures against their current baseline.

It is important to note that a well-managed and operated sanitary landfill actually produces considerable greenhouse gases, in particular methane. But instead of looking at this irony negatively, we can view this as a very good opportunity to utilize these greenhouse gases as an energy source. They can be collected and harnessed on-site, through a process called flaring, for waste-to-energy purposes.

The waste-to-energy process not only provides a powerful climate co-benefit – but it also reduces the amount of waste that ultimately ends up in landfills, which increases their lifespan.

Funders will also be interested in working with cities that comprehensively address the proper final disposal and treatment of waste in sanitary landfills; or cities that are creative at ‘blue-green’ nature-based solutions such as revegetating landfill embankments, and planting vegetation filter strips along water courses to improve urban resilience.

  1. Cities should plan to mitigate the social impacts of the project

While SWM projects will bring profound health benefits to a city’s population, they may also have an unexpected impact on those “whose livelihood heavily depends on waste picking and recycling,” Brian explains.

Cities can mitigate these effects by conducting a stakeholder mapping exercise that aims to identify different categories of affected stakeholders thus deciding on the level of engagement with each; and social and environmental impact assessment to analyze, monitor and manage the intended and unintended social and environmental consequences of the intervention.

A comprehensive mapping exercise is essential in attracting financiers to a project. In particular in the case of informal waste pickers that are at risk of losing their income, a dedicated social program should be designed and implemented to better include them in the new scheme (via cooperatives, formal recruitment, providing adequate equipment, alternative livelihoods opportunity, etc.) and to work on removing the social stigma associated with this activity.

The mapping exercise may also help city officials identify ways to involve the community in the project by opening opportunities for individuals to participate in waste reduction and recycling programs.

Also, awareness-raising campaigns are key at the outset of an SWM project to promote public accountability for the project. The ultimate objective of this is to change the old adage of “not in my backyard” to “let’s keep the waste out of everyone’s backyard.”

  1. Institutional and capacity development is part of every SWM project

A sustainable SWM project should not only improve a city’s infrastructure capacities, it must also improve the capacities of the institutions managing it.

“A very important early step in these projects is to identify and map all local institutions in charge of managing solid waste in order to analyze the division of responsibilities, accountabilities and capacity gaps at individual and institutional levels,” Brian shares.

“From there, cities can devise an institutional strengthening and capacity development roadmap, which includes short-, medium- and long-term activities to address the identified capacity gaps.”

By developing an institutional strengthening and capacity development roadmap early on in the SWM project, cities can facilitate the project’s smooth and timely implementation, and equip themselves with the skills to sustain their new infrastructure.

  1. SWM projects are an ideal showcase for circular economy solutions

Downstream funders and private sector companies also have a demonstrated interest on SWM projects that can utilize modern, innovative circular economy models. Reducing waste through circular economy approaches, recycling, energy-from-waste, and industrial waste prevention could cut 25% to 35% of greenhouse gas emission.

One example of this would be city-supported programs that reuse, repurpose or refurbish discarded plastic components. This keeps these plastics in use for much longer – and in some cases can even prevent their final disposal.

On a similar note, it is recommended for cities to explore extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, wherein plastic waste producers are required to take greater responsibility for their products’ end-of-life management.

For the city’s part, this would entail them to encourage and require plastic producers to select eco-friendly designs to reduce environmental impacts and impose EPR fees to fund waste management activities and programs.

  1. A project’s ultimate objective is to protect nature

Every SWM project should be designed to protect nature, the environment, and the people. This is also where the social and environmental impact assessments play a critical role.

From the comprehensive environmental assessment, cities can draw several key components to environmental protection. Beyond employing a careful land selection process for sanitary landfills and other infrastructure, cities can also enact legislation to designate certain areas as heritage or historic sites to help protect them from pollution.

City officials may also review environmental protection regulations – and penalties for violating them – to improve their enforcement.

Brian says, “the greener and more livable a project’s objectives are, the more interesting it will be for potential downstream funders.”

CDIA helps cities attract investment for municipal SWM infrastructure projects

Brian and his team have worked on a number of SWM projects in developing cities that have secured external funding or potential to do so.

“As a result of a CDIA PPS, the Philippine City of Cagayan de Oro was able to enact a 10-year solid waste management plan,” he says.

This involved the phased closure of an open dumpsite in the city, and officials were able to mitigate the effects of its closure by providing alternative employment programs for the 300 families who had previously relied on waste picking in the dumpsite for their livelihoods.

That dumpsite was replaced by a new sanitary landfill.

“Then there is a project for Vung Tau, Viet Nam,” he adds. “We are undertaking a project feasibility study and preliminary engineering design of the city’s SWM project.”

The emphasis of this project is to reduce the city’s plastic waste pollution by focusing on circular economy practices and plastic waste reduction.

Cities need to fully integrate climate, social and environmental benefits into their solid waste management projects. It is key to building a strong case for them to receive external funding.

This article was developed with support from the European Union. 

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