Systems approaches to integrated solid waste management in developing countries

Systems approaches to integrated solid waste management in developing countries

Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Waste Management journal homepage:

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Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

Waste Management journal homepage:

Systems approaches to integrated solid waste management in developing countries Rachael E. Marshall ⇑, Khosrow Farahbakhsh 1 School of Engineering, University of Guelph, Albert A. Thornbrough Building, Guelph, ON, Canada N1G 2W1

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history: Received 14 September 2012 Accepted 11 December 2012 Available online 26 January 2013 Keywords: Systems approaches Integrated solid waste management Developing countries Industrialized countries Post-normal science Complex adaptive systems

a b s t r a c t Solid waste management (SWM) has become an issue of increasing global concern as urban populations continue to rise and consumption patterns change. The health and environmental implications associated with SWM are mounting in urgency, particularly in the context of developing countries. While systems analyses largely targeting well-defined, engineered systems have been used to help SWM agencies in industrialized countries since the 1960s, collection and removal dominate the SWM sector in developing countries. This review contrasts the history and current paradigms of SWM practices and policies in industrialized countries with the current challenges and complexities faced in developing country SWM. In industrialized countries, public health, environment, resource scarcity, climate change, and public awareness and participation have acted as SWM drivers towards the current paradigm of integrated SWM. However, urbanization, inequality, and economic growth; cultural and socio-economic aspects; policy, governance, and institutional issues; and international influences have complicated SWM in developing countries. This has limited the applicability of approaches that were successful along the SWM development trajectories of industrialized countries. This review demonstrates the importance of founding new SWM approaches for developing country contexts in post-normal science and complex, adaptive systems thinking. Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction The primary purposes of solid waste management (SWM) strategies are to address the health, environmental, aesthetic, land-use, resource, and economic concerns associated with the improper disposal of waste (Henry et al., 2006; Nemerow, 2009; Wilson, 2007). These issues are an ongoing concern for nations, municipalities, corporations, and individuals around the world (Nemerow, 2009), and the global community at large (Wilson, 2007). In developing countries, the waste produced by burgeoning cities is overwhelming local authorities and national governments alike (Tacoli, 2012; Yousif and Scott, 2007). Limited resources result in the perpetuation and aggravation of inequalities already being experienced by the most vulnerable of populations (Konteh, 2009; UNDP, 2010). Systems analyses – engineering models, analysis platforms, and assessment tools predominantly targeting tightly defined engineered systems – have been applied to help SWM agencies in developed countries since the 1960s (Chang et al., 2011). These system models have been used both as decision-support tools for planning processes, and for monitoring and optimizing existing SWM systems. While some systems analysis tools have been used

⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 519 362 7809; fax: +1 519 836 0227. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (R.E. Marshall), [email protected] ca (K. Farahbakhsh). 1 Fax: +1 519 836 0227. 0956-053X/$ - see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

in developing countries (e.g. see Charnpratheep and Garner, 1997; Chang et al., 1997; Chang and Wang, 1996), most models were developed in Canada and the United States (Chang et al., 2011). Even in developed country contexts, prior to 2000, very few models considered social aspects of SWM, focusing solely on the economic and environmental spheres (Morrissey and Browne, 2004). None considered involving all relevant stakeholders, from government officials, industry and formal private sector services providers to local communities and rag pickers; and none considered the full waste management cycle from prevention to final disposal (Morrissey and Browne, 2004). To date, few models take a holistic perspective of the SWM system; most focus on isolated problems within the larger system and are of little use to decision makers (Chang et al., 2011; Shmelev and Powell, 2006). While nearly all systems analyses have been unsuccessful at achieving a broad systems perspective of SWM, they have made more obvious the need for holistic, integrating methodologies that address the interconnectedness of socio-cultural, environmental, economic, and technical spheres. This need is particularly strong in developing countries, where the complexities of SWM systems are often higher for a number of reasons, and the SWM sector is predominantly preoccupied with collection and removal services (Wilson, 2007). This paper builds upon the work of Wilson (2007), who explores 6 broad categories of SWM development drivers in developed and developing country contexts. As Wilson (2007) points out, building

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an understanding about what has driven SWM in the past can provide much needed context and insight for how best to move forward in the future. While the focus of Wilson (2007) is equally on the SWM drivers in both industrialized and developing countries, this paper tailors this discussion to developing country contexts by reviewing his drivers as part of the historical backdrop that frames current SWM practices in developing countries and exploring the present-day issues specific to SWM in developing nations. Additionally, while Wilson (2007) closes with the need to work towards integrated, sustainable SWM systems that are locally appropriate to specific developing country contexts, this paper takes his perspective a step further by providing a means to begin working towards this goal: post-normal science approaches and complex adaptive systems (CAS) thinking. Thus, this review begins by examining the historical development of SWM in high-income countries. It then explores the state of SWM systems in developing countries by examining the challenges presented by economic, social, cultural, political, and international influences. Finally, it explores the need for a systemic approach in developing country contexts by examining the beneficial perspectives of post-normal science and CAS thinking. It should be noted that the author recognizes that stark situational differences exist at all levels: between nations, regions, cities, communities, households, and even individuals. While this paper makes reference to categories of countries (i.e. developing, developed, industrialized, high-, medium-, and low-income), by no means does it imply that the problems are the same amongst these groups. Indeed, ‘‘we always pay for generality by sacrificing content, and all we can say about practically everything is almost nothing’’ (Boulding, 1956, p. 197); it is for this reason that systems approaches, which are founded upon specific, locally appropriate methodologies, are so crucial to the future of SWM practices. 2. Solid waste management in high-income countries The historical forces and mechanisms that have driven the evolution of SWM in high-income countries can provide insight about how to move forward in developing country contexts (Wilson, 2007). The following sections explore the origins and principal drivers of SWM development in industrialized countries in order to provide some context for the changes that are currently taking place in developing countries. 2.1. Historical origins of solid waste management Humans have been mass-producing solid waste since they first formed non-nomadic societies around 10,000 BC (Worrell and Vesilind, 2012). Historically, public health concerns, security, scarcity of resources, and aesthetics acted as central drivers for waste management systems (Louis, 2004; Melosi, 1981; Ponting, 1991; Wilson, 2007; Worrell and Vesilind, 2012). Small communities managed to bury solid waste just outside their settlements or dispose of it in nearby rivers or water bodies, but as population densities increased, these practices no longer prevented the spread of foul odours or disease (Seadon, 2006). As waste accumulated in these growing communities, people simply lived amongst the filth. There were exceptions: organized SWM processes were implemented in the ancient city of Mahenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley by 2000 BC (Worrell and Vesilind, 2012); the Greeks had both issued a decree banning waste disposal in the streets and organized the Western world’s first acknowledged ‘municipal dumps’ by 500 BC (Melosi, 1981); and Chinese cities had ‘‘disposal police’’ responsible for enforcing disposal laws by 200 BC. However, as Worrell and Vesilind (2012, p. 1) so aptly describe, ‘‘for the most part, people in cities lived among waste and squalor’’ (p. 1). In both Athens


and Rome, waste was only relocated well outside city boundaries when defenses were threatened because opponents could scale up the refuse piles and over the city walls (Worrell and Vesilind, 2012). City streets in the Middle Ages were plastered in an odorous mud composed of soil, stagnant water, household waste, and animal and human excrement (Louis, 2004). This created very favourable conditions for vectors of disease. Indeed, the Black Death, which struck Europe in the early 1300s, may have been partially caused by the littering of organic wastes in the streets (Louis, 2004; Tchobanoglous et al., 1977; Worrell and Vesilind, 2012). In colonial America, the urban population lived in similar putrid conditions (Melosi, 1981). Many initiatives were implemented to clean up the streets, but all were short-lived because the poor were focused feeding themselves and the rich were opposed to paying to clean up for the poor (Wilson, 2007). However, scarcity of resources ensured many items were repaired and reused, and the waste stream was thoroughly scavenged (Woodward, 1985). When SWM progress finally began, it was driven by five principal factors: public health, the environment, resource scarcity and the value of waste, climate change, and public awareness and participation. These driving forces and the progress they instigated are depicted in Fig. 1. 2.2. Driver 1: Public Health – The sanitary revolution The industrial revolution brought rapid expansion to both European and American cities. A new era in sanitation began to take shape between 1790 and 1850 in London, where the high ash content of household waste caused by heating and cooking with coal created a flourishing market for waste collection and use as a raw material to meet the excess demand for bricks (Wilson, 2007). In the late 1830s the sanitation revolution began in London with the appointment of the Sanitation Commission, which established the first clear linkages between disease and poor sanitary conditions. It was during this time that a governmental interest in public health drove better solid waste management practices forward through legislation, enforcement, and investment in infrastructure. In 1848 and 1875 Public Health Acts were established, the latter of which required households to dispose of their waste in a moveable receptacle, which local authorities were responsible for emptying weekly (see Fig. 1). Similar legislation was implemented in other European countries (Wilson, 2007). In American cities, population density and the reliance on imported goods increased dramatically between 1790 and 1920 (Louis, 2004). Likewise, the need to export the waste products of their burgeoning growth beyond immediate city limits increased. Public concern about sanitation rose as epidemic diseases continued to rock cities regularly. Thus, governmental interest in public health drove solid waste management improvements in American cities as well through legislation and investment in infrastructure (Louis, 2004). Public health legislation continued to drive waste management forward in the following century. The first municipal priority was to collect and remove waste from the immediate vicinity of residential areas (Wilson, 2007). Once the waste had been removed from underfoot, priorities shifted to other aspects of the waste management chain, such as the proliferation of landfills (Seadon, 2006). However, from 1900 to 1970, disposal was for the most part unregulated and uncontrolled, consisting of dumping and burning (Wilson, 2007). The focus remained on waste collection and transportation out of the city (UN-HABITAT, 2010). 2.3. Driver 2: Environment – The ‘modernization’ of SWM After the Second World War landfilling was still the principal waste disposal method, and rapid growth in consumption from


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Fig. 1. SWM drivers and progress.

1960 onwards resulted in a larger municipal waste stream with a higher plastics content (Wolsink, 2010). Finally, the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s brought waste disposal onto the political agenda in industrialized countries (Wilson, 2007; Wolsink, 2010), which created a significant shift in policymakers’ perspectives on how to approach SWM (Wolsink, 2010). New legislation addressing water pollution and SWM emerged, initially targeting the elimination of uncontrolled disposal (see Fig. 1). Subsequent SWM legislation increasingly raised environmental standards to reduce the contamination of land, air, and water (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). The environmental movement acted as a primary driver of the policy stages from the 1970s onwards (Wilson, 2007). SWM policy from the 1970s to mid-1980s focused on waste control, and was therefore characterized by measures such as the daily covering and compacting of landfills and retrofitting incinerators for dust control. The following policy stage, which emerged in the 1980s and continues today, focused on gradually increasing technical standards, beginning with landfill gas and leachate control, incinerator gas and dioxin reduction, and now spanning to odour control for composting facilities and

anaerobic digesters (Wilson, 2007). In the 1990s, integrative policy gained much attention because it had become evident that advocating for ever-increasing environmental protection was not enough; an integrative regulatory approach was needed that encompassed not only the technical and environmental but also the political, social, financial, economic, and institutional elements of waste management if environmental protection were to be realized (McDougall et al., 2001; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001; Wilson, 2007). 2.4. Driver 3: The resource scarcity and value of waste In pre-industrial times, resources were relatively scarce. Anything vendible in the waste stream was scavenged and consumer goods were reused and repaired rather than tossed into the waste stream (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). As cities grew in size during the industrial revolution, the resource value of waste rose again, and ‘rag pickers’ or ‘street buyers’ collected, used, and sold materials from the waste stream; an activity that continues today in many developing countries (see Fig. 1) (UN-HABITAT, 2010).

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However, recycling rates plummeted from the high levels of preindustrial times to single digits by the 1970s (Wilson, 2007), as this was a period of immense increase in consumption, strong marketing of commodities, and little regard for resource consumption. The recycling and reuse that went on in the 19th century was sparked again in the 1970s by the European concept of the ‘waste hierarchy’, on which current waste policy in the EU is based (Wilson, 2007; Wolsink, 2010). The original idea for the waste hierarchy was first borne out of the Dutch government’s shortage of landfill sites (Wolsink, 2010), but the idea was propelled forward primarily by the environmental movement. First introduced in the European Union’s Second Environment Action Programme in 1977 (CEC, 1977), the waste hierarchy is a model of waste management priorities based on the ‘‘Ladder of Lansink’’, a hierarchy of waste handling techniques going in order from prevention to reuse, reduction, recycling, energy recovery, treatment (such as incineration), and finally landfill disposal (Price and Joseph, 2000; Wilson, 2007; Wolsink, 2010). Thus, the availability of land and its value as a resource somewhat acted as a driver for the move away from landfilling, though land scarcity primarily led to new treatment options, such as incineration. The waste hierarchy sparked a massive transition from end-of-pipe to preventative thinking, which emerged with a multitude of new terms and phrases – pollution prevention, source reduction, waste minimization, waste reduction, toxics use reduction, clean or cleaner technology, etc. – to replace the old terms that focused on reaction and control instead of prevention (Hirschhorn et al., 1993). This policy shift away from landfilling has significantly increased the use of medium priority waste handling methods, which were historically more prominent due to resource scarcity but dropped to single digit percentages in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Recycling, for example, has rebounded to 25% or higher in Europe (Wilson, 2007), reaching rates as high as 60% in Austria and the Netherlands (Kollikkathara et al., 2009). However, Wilson (2007) points out that this is ‘‘often driven by statutory targets rather than by the resource value per se ... recycling is practiced because it is the right thing to do, not because the value of the recovered materials covers the costs’’ (p. 200). Many governments, industry members, educators, environment groups, and programs have adopted and endorsed the waste management hierarchy (Gertsakis and Lewis, 2003; Seadon, 2006), which, along with what Seadon (2006) describes as ‘‘an almost mantra-like acceptance among waste professionals’’ (p. 1328), has sparked a flurry of criticisms. According to Gertsakis and Lewis (2003), the hierarchy is difficult to implement because solid waste managers in industry and government have little control over production decisions that could influence higher-level priorities, such as waste prevention and minimization. Additionally, McDougall et al. (2001) point out that the waste hierarchy does not make room for combinations of techniques, account for costs or specific constraints, lacks scientific or technical basis, and cannot provide what is fundamentally needed – an assessment of the context-specific system as a whole. 2.5. Driver 4: Climate change Climate change has acted as an environmental driver since the early 1990s, leading to a shift away from landfilling biodegradable waste, which is a major source of methane emissions, and a strengthened focus on energy recovery from waste (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). This driver was brought on by the global concern about climate change issues, which led to pressure and advocacy around the world. This driver led to a policy stage focused on waste prevention and target achievements, and characterized by a series of preventative policy measures, including laws and targets for compost and recycling goals, diversion from landfill, extended


producer responsibility, and landfill bans for recyclable materials (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). Policies such as the EU Landfill Directive require reductions in levels of biodegradable material sent to landfill as a method to recover valuable materials and reduce methane emissions (Wilson, 2007). This has further increased recycling and composting rates, which have been on the rise in cities modernizing their waste systems (UN-HABITAT, 2010). However, since climate change measures can only have significant impact if many adhere to this objective, there is no immediate national gain from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is the primary weakness of this driver, and one of the primary reasons it is so difficult to gain consensus for a post-2012 convention for reducing carbon dioxide levels. 2.6. Driver 5: Public concern and awareness – NIMBY and behavioural change Public concern and awareness have also acted as SWM drivers in high-income countries. Poor practices in the past, such as burning dumps and polluting incinerators, have left the public with negative perceptions of new SWM strategies (Wilson, 2007). While the public may recognize the need for SWM facilities, the common ‘‘Not In My Backyard’’, or NIMBY, attitude means they would rather have them located elsewhere (Schübeler, 1996). Wilson (2007, p. 201) describes how negative perceptions of past facilities ‘‘have led to the almost inevitable NIMBY reaction to proposals for any new waste management facility, no matter how clean or sustainable that may be’’. Unsustainable behaviour also inhibits movement towards better SWM. Therefore, strategies that include more recycling, repair, reuse, home composting, sustainable consumption, etc. require behavioural change (Wilson, 2007), which Jackson (2005) believes is becoming the ‘holy grail’ of any sustainable development strategy. The systems that shape patterns of the public’s activities create complex barriers to sustainable behaviour. Many people are unable to exercise deliberate choice because they find themselves locked into unsustainable patterns caused by habits, routines, a lack of knowledge, institutional structures, inequalities in access, social expectations, and cultural values (Jackson, 2005; McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, 1999). Additionally, each form of sustainable behaviour has a unique and complex set of barriers that vary amongst social groups (McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, 1999). Even seemingly closely associated sustainable behaviour, such as composting and recycling, can be barricaded by different sets of obstacles (McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, 1999). Therefore, transferring initiatives that appear successful in a specific context is unlikely to be effective (Southerton et al., 2011). Overcoming public attitudes and unsustainable behaviour requires effective communication, a broad public understanding of the requirements of SWM, and active participation of all relevant stakeholders throughout all project stages (Schübeler, 1996). For example, some of the top strategies identified for overcoming NIMBY opposition include building project supporters before implementation, developing a comprehensive understanding of causes of opposition, and acting to remove them through stakeholder consultation, correction of misinformation, and compromise. These ‘best practices’ have been effective at combating NIMBY opposition to many major development projects (Noto, 2010). Thus, building public awareness through such measures and focusing public concern on the need to develop sustainable behaviour have acted as SWM drivers. 3. Solid waste management in developing countries For a variety of reasons, poor waste management practices and associated public health implications remain severely problematic in many developing countries a century and a half after the


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European sanitary revolution, despite increasing globalization (Konteh, 2009). In industrialized nations, the health benefits from solid waste and sanitation systems are largely taken for granted, and the focus has moved from sanitation-related communicable diseases to ‘diseases of affluence’ (cancer, cardiovascular disease, drug and alcohol abuse) and ‘‘sustainability’’ (Konteh, 2009; Langeweg et al., 2000; McGranahan, 2001). Meanwhile, many developing countries are currently affected by the ‘double burden’ of the combined effects of the diseases of affluence and communicable diseases (Boadi et al., 2005; Konteh, 2009). Wilson (2007, p. 204) points out that ‘‘[i]n some countries, simple survival is such a predominant concern, that waste management does not feature strongly on the list of public concerns’’. When SWM is on the public agenda in developing countries, it is driven by the same concerns as industrialized countries, although it tends to be driven most strongly by public health; the key priority is still getting the waste out from underfoot, as it was for the Europe and the United States up until the 1960s (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Memon, 2010; Rodic et al., 2010; Wilson, 2007). Environmental protection is still relatively low on the political and public agendas, although this is starting to change (Wilson, 2007). Though legislation is often in place requiring closure and phasing out of unregulated disposal, enforcement tends to be weak (Wilson, 2007). The resource value of waste is an important driver in many developing countries today; informal recycling provides a livelihood for the urban poor in many parts of the world (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). Climate change is an important driver worldwide – the clean development mechanism under the Kyoto protocol, in which developed countries can buy ‘carbon credits’ from developing nations, can provide a key source of income to encourage cities in developing countries to improve waste management systems (Wilson, 2007). Many similarities exist between the historical SWM development trajectories of industrialized countries and the current trajectories of developing countries. Many cities in lower income nations are experiencing similar conditions to those of the 19th century in high income countries: ‘‘high levels of urbanization, degrading sanitary conditions and unprecedented levels of morbidity and mortality, which affected mostly the working class population’’ (Konteh, 2009, p. 70). Indeed, increasing urbanization and socioeconomic disparities, inadequate provision of sanitary and environmental amenities, social exclusion and inequalities related to existing SWM systems, and high levels of morbidity and mortality linked to inadequate sanitation, waste disposal, and water supply provision were common then as they are today, particularly in poorer urban neighbourhoods in lower income countries (Konteh, 2009). In spite of the apparent parallels, the contexts in which developing nations are situated are starkly different from the historical contexts of developed countries. Rapid urbanization, soaring inequality, and the struggle for economic growth; varying economic, cultural, socio-economic, and political landscapes; governance, institutional, and responsibility issues; and international influences have created locally specific, technical and non-technical challenges of immense complexity (see Fig. 3). The following sections will explore these contextual aspects and the challenges they present for SWM systems in the developing world. 3.1. Urbanization, inequality, and economic growth Urbanization has exploded with great speed and scale in recent decades with ‘‘more than half the world’s population now living in urban centres’’ (Tacoli, 2012, p. 4), as countries and even individual cities struggle to be competitive in the global marketplace (Cohen, 2004). While just 16 cities contained at least a million people at the start of the 20th century – the vast majority of which were in

industrial nations – at the start of the 21st century 400 cities contained over a million people, and approximately three-quarters of these urban centers were in low- and middle-income countries (Cohen, 2004). This rapid, unplanned growth has resulted in a number of extreme land use planning and infrastructural challenges that have crippled the capacity of national and municipal governments to increase SWM service levels at the rate they are demanded. This, in combination with extremely slow and inefficient institutional structures, has had a disastrous effect on the quality and reach of SWM services in many regions of the world – one that is projected to worsen in the future. The fact that nearly all of the world’s population growth is projected to occur in urban areas (Cohen, 2004) from now until 2050 – much of which will take place in the world’s poorer regions – has raised ‘‘concerns about growing urban poverty and the inability of national and city governments to provide services to the residents of their burgeoning cities’’ (Tacoli, 2012, p. 5). Many more people will be pushed into slums, where sanitary conditions are appalling and waste amenities are non-existent; the number of people living in slums is now estimated at some 828 million and growing in actual numbers even though 200 million slum-dwellers have moved out of slum quality conditions (UNFPA, 2011). Almost invariably, the SWM demands of these high-density, low-income settlements are inadequately served or neglected altogether even though these areas have the greatest need for these services since there is no space among the densely packed housing for waste burial or composting and they are less able to make alternate arrangements to dispose of waste (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Collection may not be carried out in these unplanned settlements due to a lack of space for refuse containers, narrow roadways, steep gradients, and unsurfaced roads that standard collection vehicles cannot manage (see Fig. 3) (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Henry et al., 2006). Therefore, waste is dumped into open spaces, on access roads and in waterways where disease vectors breed (see Fig. 3) (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Konteh, 2009). Waste clogs drains, creating flooded, stagnant nurseries for mosquitos carrying malaria and dengue fever. Animals and waste pickers scatter the waste, and leachate from garbage heaps percolates into soil and waterways. This results in contaminated food, water, and soil, and serious environmental and health implications, particularly for the most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Tacoli, 2012). This kind of environmental degradation can also negatively impact the (sometimes fragile) economies of those countries that rely heavily on tourism (Henry et al., 2006). 3.2. Cultural and socio-economic aspects The structure and functioning of SWM systems are founded on the behaviour patterns and underlying attitudes of the population – factors that are shaped by the local cultural and social context (Schübeler, 1996). The substantial diversity of social and ethnic groups that often exists within rapidly expanding cities, even within individual residential communities, greatly influences municipalities’ capacities to implement SWM strategies (Schübeler, 1996). Public awareness and attitudes towards waste can impact the entire SWM system, from household storage to separation, interest in waste reduction, recycling, demand for collection services, willingness to pay for SWM services, opposition to proposed locations of waste facilities, the amount of waste in the streets, and ultimately the success or failure of a SWM system (Henry et al., 2006; Schübeler, 1996; Yousif and Scott, 2007; Zurbruegg, 2003). In parts of the Arab world and Latin America, for example, opportunities to strengthen waste institutions may be limited by the fact that SWM is not seen as an honourable profession (Wilson, 2007). The cultural and socio-economic context also influences the waste composition generated by a population (Coffey and Coad,

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2010; Schübeler, 1996). In some cases, shops sell food that is largely pre-prepared, while in others, fresh meat or large quantities of fresh vegetables and fruit drastically alter the waste composition. Cooking and heating with solid fuel affects the waste composition by eliminating items that would otherwise be discarded, such as paper, and contributing hot, abrasive ashes to the waste stream (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Local architecture, such as mud brick housing and unpaved floors can mean large quantities of dust and soil enter the waste stream, while sanitary practices can influence the quantity of excreta in the waste (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Socio-economic status at the neighbourhood and household level affect waste composition: higher literacy increases the paper content of waste, and wealthier groups often choose to discard durable items instead of repairing them (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Recycling and reuse is affected by differences in how social groups value items that would otherwise enter the waste stream. Often much of the organic waste is fed to livestock, and items like food and drink containers are reused in the household (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Informal recycling is carried out by waste pickers, who value much of what might otherwise enter the waste stream (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Schübeler, 1996; UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). Social expectations of waste collection are also dependent on waste composition, and therefore on cooking and eating habits. If large quantities of odour-generating food (e.g. fish) are consumed, waste collection rates are expected to be more frequent, particularly in warmer climates (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Jha et al., 2011). Disposal is also greatly influenced by social attitudes. Some social groups always dispose of waste in the appropriate containers, while others view the street as an appropriate disposal location. Householders and city officials alike may have no interest in whether waste is dumped illegally or sent to a proper disposal facility, as long as it is removed from the urban zone (Coffey and Coad, 2010). In some urban areas, the primary focus is still on food, shelter, security and livelihoods; waste will become a priority only when these more basic needs have been met (Konteh, 2009), and only becomes an issue when public health or environmental damage impact these priorities (Wilson, 2007). 3.3. Political landscapes: Policy, governance, institutional issues Politics inevitably play a large role in SWM systems. The structure, functioning, and governance of SWM systems are affected by the relationship between central and local governments, the role of party politics in local government administration, and the extent that citizens participate democratically in policy making processes (Schübeler, 1996). In low-income countries, the greatest challenge ‘‘is to strike the right balance between policy, governance, institutional mechanisms and resource provision and allocation’’ (Konteh, 2009, p. 74). 3.3.1. Policy A democratic, public process of SWM goal formulation is essential to determine the actual needs of the citizens, and therefore to be able to prioritize limited municipal resources in a just manner. Policy weaknesses are consequently some of the critical causes of failed SWM systems in many low-income countries, as inadequate formulation and implementation of realistic policies is common (see Fig. 3) (Konteh, 2009). While developed countries addressed their SWM needs by putting in place effective, functioning policy measures, ‘‘[i]n many cities of the developing world remedial measures have been elusive; efforts are uncoordinated or ad hoc, and the resources invested in the sector inadequate’’ (Konteh, 2009, p. 72). Additionally, civil unrest and political instability has contributed to the growing SWM problem in low-income urban areas


by forcing millions of displaced people to seek refuge in major cities (Boadi et al., 2005; Konteh, 2009). SWM is also not always a high priority for local and national policy makers and planners. Other issues with more social and political urgency may take precedence and leave little budget for waste issues (Memon, 2010; Yousif and Scott, 2007). In some countries, such as Guatemala, serious SWM project continuity problems arise because all municipal office workers – including those not involved in elections – are replaced during any change in government (Yousif and Scott, 2007). This lack of long-term commitment results in the abandonment of work completed in previous terms (Zarate et al., 2008). Projects can also be shelved due to political fallout between different political parties and local authorities (Henry et al., 2006).

3.3.2. Governance In all urban centers around the world, any form of environmental management ‘‘is an intensely political task, as different interests (including very powerful interests) compete for the most advantageous locations, for the ownership or use of resources and waste sinks, and for publicly provided infrastructure and services’’ (Hardoy et al., 2001, p. 19). Many of these conflicting interests contribute to the degradation of essential resources and urban environmental health if good environmental management is absent (Hardoy et al., 2001; Konteh, 2009). As these factors have gained recognition, there has been a shift in the urban development literature from ‘government’, which focuses on the role, responsibilities and performance of government bodies, to ‘governance’, which additionally considers the relationship between government and civil society (Hardoy et al., 2001). Good governance requires the participation and collaboration of all relevant parties, including government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community groups and the private sector (see Fig. 3) (Konteh, 2009). According to the Asian Development Bank, the four principle elements of good governance are accountability, participation, predictability, and transparency (Bhuiyan, 2010). Good governance allows low-income groups to influence policy and resource allocation (Hardoy et al., 2001), and therefore it is essential for equitable, effective, and efficient SWM. Indeed, the efficiency, along with ‘‘the effectiveness of SWM in a city [are some] of the indices for assessing good governance’’ (Bhuiyan, 2010, p. 126). Low-income countries tend to lack the appropriate governance institutions and structures typically found in high-income countries, such as public policy research institutions, freedom of information laws, judicial autonomy, auditors general, police academies, etc. (Bhuiyan, 2010). This lack of democratic structures and competent, representative local government creates barriers to proper SWM. Political jostling for power means that local authorities base decision-making on the interests of their parties (Henry et al., 2006; Zurbruegg, 2003). Henry describes how ‘‘the upgrading of Nairobi slums has not been implemented because some councilors incite their constituents to reject such a move out of an unfounded fear of voters who might be moved out once slum upgrading efforts get underway. There are instances when some councilors hinder particular projects for political reasons only’’ (Henry et al., 2006, p. 97). Government bodies maintain inflated workforces for political reasons, which consume much-needed funds (Henry et al., 2006). Petty and high profile corruption are also rampant in many countries. While ‘‘it has been widely recognized that corruption retards economic growth, distorts the political system, debilitates administration and undermines the interests and welfare of the community’’, corruption remains one of the most pervasive and least confronted challenges facing public institutions in developing countries (Bhuiyan, 2010, p. 131).


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3.3.3. Institutions Effective SWM requires the definition of clear roles and legal responsibilities of institutions and government bodies to avoid controversies, ineffectiveness, inaction, and making SWM systems politically unstable (Schübeler, 1996). Even when regulatory and legislative frameworks exist, governments with weak institutional structures are easily overwhelmed by increasing demands for SWM as urban populations explode (Halla and Majani, 1999; Hardoy et al., 2001; Konteh, 2009). Institutional aspects of SWM include:  the degree of decentralization, i.e. distribution of authority, functions, and responsibilities between central and local governmental institutions;  the structure of institutional systems responsible for SWM and how they interact with other urban management sectors;  organizational procedures, for planning and management;  the capacity of responsible institutions; and  involvement of other sectors, including the private sector and community groups (Schübeler, 1996). Institutional aspects also include the current and future legislation, and the extent to which it is enforced (Zurbruegg, 2003). A straightforward, transparent, unambiguous legal and regulatory framework, including functioning inspection and enforcement procedures at the national, provincial, and local levels, is essential to the proper functioning of a SWM strategy (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Schübeler, 1996). According to Wilson (2007, p. 203), ‘‘there seems to be general consensus that weak institutions are a major issue in emerging and developing countries (e.g. Asia, Africa, Latin America, Russia), so that institutional strengthening and capacity building becomes a major driver’’ for SWM (see Fig. 3). Enforcement of laws governing regular SWM activities and new project implementation is often poor, resulting in improperly functioning SWM systems (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Henry et al., 2006). For example, the ‘‘polluter pays’’ policy is inappropriate for many countries because the lack of enforcement causes large waste generators to simply dump illegally (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Developing effective, efficient municipal SWM plans is difficult in developing countries because data on waste generation and composition is largely unreliable and insufficient, seldom capturing system losses or informal activities (Jha et al., 2011; Shimura et al., 2001; UN-HABITAT, 2010). In developing countries, SWM is often under-funded due to a combination of inadequate resources from municipal tax revenues, insufficient user fees, and the mismanagement of funds (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Zurbruegg, 2003). This persistent lack of funds prevents capacity building and the improvement and expansion of SWM handling capacities (Henry et al., 2006). According to the World Bank and USAID, it is therefore common for municipalities in developing countries to spend 20–50% of their available municipal budget on SWM, which often can only stretch to serve less than 50% of the population (Henry et al., 2006; Memon, 2010). In lowincome countries, 80–90% of this budget is spent on collection while in high-income countries less than 10% is spent on collection services (Memon, 2010). As the price of land increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to for municipalities to site landfills close to urban areas, while transportation costs become a major constraint to constructing landfills at a distant location (Memon, 2010), exacerbating the problem. Much-needed resources are consumed by inefficiencies, frequently caused by inefficient institutional structures and organizational procedures, and poor management capacity (Zurbruegg, 2003). Structural problems often arise when revenue collection and investment decisions happen at the central government level while operation and maintenance occur at the local level. Capacity issues are also common. Schübeler (1996, p. 32) states that ‘‘large discrepancies often exist between the job

requirements and the actual qualification of the staff at the managerial and operational levels’’. Overstaffed local authorities find it difficult to meet the large wage payments of poorly trained workers (Henry et al., 2006). One substantial way that funds are mismanaged in developing countries is through the use of techniques from the ‘‘conventional’’ SWM approach of industrialized countries (Henry et al., 2006). Imported, sophisticated vehicles and equipment for collection, treatment, and disposal are expensive and difficult to maintain and operate (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Zurbruegg, 2003). Frequently, the waste composition in developing countries is very different from the waste characteristics they are designed to handle, causing them to break down rapidly or be of little use in the first place (Memon, 2010; Zurbruegg, 2003). Typically, within a short period of time only a small percentage of the vehicle fleet remains in operation (Coffey and Coad, 2010). These managerial challenges are compounded by the fact that waste quantities are increasing rapidly in most cities at a greater rate than in high-income countries due to increases in wealth and in quantities of waste produced per person, an increase in the number of people living and working in the city, and rising quantities of waste produced by businesses (UN-HABITAT, 2010). 3.4. International influences In the absence of strong political or cultural drivers, international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank, act as key drivers for SWM development. IFIs generally have a strong focus on environmental policies (including those related to climate change), poverty reduction, institutional capacity building, good governance, and private sector participation (see Fig. 3) (Wilson, 2007). While most of these focus areas are indeed crucial to properly functioning solid waste systems, the approaches used by IFIs are not always appropriate for the particular context of their clientele. The World Bank had several unsuccessful SWM projects in the 1990s (e.g. Philippines, Mexico, Sri Lanka) due in part to weak institutions and governance issues, but also due to a lack of financial capacity in the receiving country to sustain the expensive facilities when Bank funding ran out (Wilson, 2007). Indeed, while loans may be obtained for infrastructure (CAPEX), in most cases none are available for operational expenditures (OPEX). This often leads to operational failures as the IFIs focus their attention solely on the acquisition and building of infrastructure, not on its operation. Unequal funding opportunities within regions and pressure to meet the same high environmental standards creates affordability issues (Wilson, 2007). Investments in the social sectors are often made in areas of global concern over local environmental health problems (Hardoy et al., 2001; Konteh, 2009; McGranahan, 2001). At the global arena, preoccupation with the ‘green agenda’, which focuses on reducing human impacts on ecosystems and their natural resources, is thought to be at the expense of the ‘brown agenda’, which focuses on environmental threats to health in poor regions, and is therefore undermining SWM efforts in lowincome countries (Konteh, 2009). Konteh (2009, p. 72) points out that ‘‘when sanitation and communicable diseases were a serious problem in Europe and North America, the public health focus was exclusively on those same issues which today fail to receive adequate attention in the developing world in spite of being a major threat to public health; green environmental issues were not on the agenda then’’. The rising urgency of urban environmental problems and need for capacity building at the municipal level has directed the attention of numerous bilateral and multilateral development agencies to SWM in recent years (Schübeler, 1996; Zarate et al., 2008). However, these donors may be motivated by bureaucratic procedures or goals of their home offices rather than an understanding

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of the local situation. van de Klundert (1995) makes several observations about this: donor biases exist towards certain technical approaches or insistence on the use of equipment that supports their own export industries; the scale at which donors work is often inappropriate for local conditions; either too small, without sufficient consideration for various larger contexts, or too large for a particular situation; coordination issues arise between donors from different countries, which may be competing for contracts, and within countries as development agencies work at cross-purposes; and donors without the time or political will to produce locally appropriate results opt for large, technical interventions rather than small-scale, context appropriate approaches, since they are easier to understand, finance, and monitor. Coffey and Coad (2010) report that the objective of many foreign aid programs for SWM in developing countries is to capture markets for supplying sophisticated machinery and related spare parts, which are more often than not completely inappropriate for local conditions. Additionally, municipal SWM is often a component within a wider development program aimed at improving urban environmental projection and/or urban management capacity, meaning many bilateral and multilateral development agencies lack the considerable expertise needed to implement successful SWM programs (Schübeler, 1996). Such issues have a detrimental effect on the evolution of SWM practices in many developing countries. Zarate et al. (2008, p. 2543) point out that ‘‘in spite of the million-dollar loans and grants that developing countries have received to improve the basic services sector, including SWM, the lack of suitable qualified human resources contributed to the inability of municipalities and communities to implement new projects’’. Grants or loans for sanitary landfill construction do not always result in the actual use of this method of disposal; well-trained personnel and sufficient financial support for a reasonable standard of operation are also necessary (Zurbruegg, 2003). Many SWM projects initially funded through grants or loans have had problems obtaining continued external funding to operate and maintain SWM systems (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Overseas consultants often recommend techniques and equipment developed in counties with extremely different social and economic conditions, and entirely different waste characteristics (Coffey and Coad, 2010). For example, numerous cases have been documented in which expensive, sophisticated composting and recycling plants have failed for a wide range of reasons: the use of imported, inappropriate technology that is too expensive or difficult to maintain; limited development of a market for recyclable materials; absence of technical personnel to with operational or management capacity; failure to complete the necessary financial and economic appraisals; and failure to adequately consult significant stakeholders and the public (Yousif and Scott, 2007). Researchers are calling for multifaceted SWM methods that are considered on a case-to-case basis and tailored to each community’s individual needs (Jha et al., 2011; Yousif and Scott, 2007). Schübeler (1996, p. 19) aptly summarizes the need for a different approach: ‘‘The essential condition of sustainability implies that waste management systems must be absorbed and carried by the society and its local communities. These systems must, in other words, be appropriate to the particular circumstances and problems of the city and locality, employing and developing the capacities of all stakeholders, including the households and communities requiring service, private sector enterprises and workers (both formal and informal), and government agencies at the local, regional and national levels’’ [original emphasis]. 4. The need for a systems approach Managing waste is a complex task that requires appropriate technical solutions, sufficient organizational capacity, and co-oper-


ation between a wide range of stakeholders (Zarate et al., 2008). According to Seadon (2010), the interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral considerations needed for the proper management of solid waste – manufacturing, transportation, urban growth and development, land use patterns, public health, etc. – highlights ‘‘the interaction and complexity between the physical components of the system and the conceptual components that include the social and environmental spheres. When waste is seen as part of a ... system, the relationship of waste to other parts of the system is revealed and thus the potential for greater sustainability of the operation increases. Conceptually, this broader view increases the difficulty of managing waste requiring an approach that handles complexity’’ (Seadon, 2010, p. 1641). However, the conventional SWM approach is reductionist, not tailored to handle complexity; interacting systems and their elements are divided into ever-smaller parts. System processes, such as waste generation, collection, and disposal operations, are considered independently, though each is interlinked and influenced by the others (Seadon, 2010). This reductionist approach is even applied to waste, as it is not a single entity that can be easily managed (Dijkema et al., 2000). It is typically separated into many primary and many more secondary classifications, and waste streams from different sectors, such as residential and commercial, are often considered separately (Seadon, 2010). Techniques therefore tend to focus on dealing with one type of waste at a time, leading to a focus on single technologies instead of waste management systems. Consequentially, one waste problem can be solved, but other waste problems are often generated with each compartmentalized ‘solution’ (Dijkema et al., 2000). This tendency to analyze things in small, understandable pieces, to trace straight paths from cause to effect, and to problem solve by attempting to control the system of concern is increasingly being recognized as problematic (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993; Meadows, 2008). This is evidenced in the SWM sector by the growing demand for SWM approaches that recognize the social, cultural, political, and environmental spheres; that engage with a broad community of stakeholders; and that consider the larger system through holistic, integrating methodologies (Carabias et al., 1999; Dijkema et al., 2000; Henry et al., 2006; McDougall et al., 2001; Morrissey and Browne, 2004; Petts, 2000; Seadon, 2006, 2010; Turner and Powell, 1991; Wilson, 2007; Zarate et al., 2008). 4.1. Integrated solid waste management – The current paradigm Integrated solid waste management (ISWM), the current SWM paradigm that has been widely accepted throughout the developed world, emerged from the policy shift away from landfilling and the push for a broader perspective that began in the 1990s. While the ‘modern’ SWM practices that began in the 1970s were defined in engineering terms – technical problems with technical solutions (van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001), the concept of ISWM strives to strike a balance between three dimensions of waste management: environmental effectiveness, social acceptability, and economic affordability (see Fig. 2). (McDougall et al., 2001; Morrissey and Browne, 2004; Petts, 2000; Thomas and McDougall, 2005; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). ISWM also focuses on the integration of the many inter-related processes and entities that make up a waste management system (McDougall et al., 2001). To reduce environmental impacts and drive costs down, a system should be integrated (in waste materials, sources of waste, and treatment methods), market oriented (i.e. energy and materials have end uses), and flexible, allowing for continual improvement (McDougall et al., 2001). ISWM systems are tailored to specific community goals by incorporating stakeholders’ perspectives and needs; the local context (from the technical, such as waste


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Fig. 2. Integrated solid waste management.

characteristics, to the cultural, political, social, environmental, economic and institutional); and the optimal combination of available, appropriate methods of prevention, reduction, recovery and disposal (Kollikkathara et al., 2009; McDougall et al., 2001; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). It has been widely recognized that waste management systems that ignore social components and priorities are doomed to failure (Carabias et al., 1999; Dijkema et al., 2000; Henry et al., 2006; Morrissey and Browne, 2004; Petts, 2000). The issues of public acceptance, changing value systems, public participation in planning and implementation stages, and consumer behaviour are equally as important as the technical and economic aspects of waste management (Carabias et al., 1999). Effective waste management must be fully embraced by local authorities and the public sphere, and go beyond traditional consultative methods that require the ‘expert’ to outline a solution prior to public involvement (Henry et al., 2006; Morrissey and Browne, 2004). Key elements to the success of these programs are public participation and empowerment, decision transparency, networking, co-operation and collective action, communication, and accessibility of information (Carabias et al., 1999; Zarate et al., 2008). However, it has been difficult to fully integrate stakeholders and ensure public involvement (Morrissey and Browne, 2004); this is in large part due to the fact that citizens did not shape the SWM systems they depend upon. These systems were shaped by technically minded ‘‘experts’’ who defined and designed the system in engineering terms.

Traditionally, the term ‘waste’ has assumed a negative connotation, but it is a subjective concept – a label applied to something unwanted by the person discarding it (Dijkema et al., 2000; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). In the context of ISWM, ‘waste’ bears a negative connotation only if it cannot be regarded as a resource that that has not been used to its full potential and can subsequently be processed to produce useful energy or goods (Dijkema et al., 2000; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). In this sense, ISWM incorporates elements of the waste hierarchy ‘‘by considering direct impacts (transportation, collection, treatment and disposal of waste) and indirect impacts (use of waste materials and energy outside the waste management system)’’ (Seadon, 2006, p. 1328). However, unlike the hierarchy, ISWM does not define the ‘best’ system, as there is no universal best system (McDougall et al., 2001). In reality, ISWM is a theoretical, optimal outcome – a framework from which new systems can be designed and implemented and existing ones can be optimized (UNEP, 1996). However, the integrated nature of ISWM creates a host of variables that may pull a system in different directions. Clearly, it is difficult to optimize more than one variable, and for this reason there will always be trade-offs (McDougall et al., 2001). No ISWM system design will achieve either environmental or economic sustainability because ‘‘[t]his is a total quality objective ... it can never be reached, since it will always be possible to reduce environmental impacts further, but it will lead to continual improvements’’ (McDougall et al., 2001, p. 19).

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Fig. 3. Developing country SWM context.

Despite the fact that ISWM is a holistic ideal, it has become somewhat of a buzzword with a different meaning in practice. Often much of what is termed ‘integrated waste management’ simply incorporates the waste hierarchy and may attempt to engage with stakeholders early on, but lacks actual integration. Thornloe et al. (1997), for example, observed that in the United States many ‘ISWM’ programs focused on individual components making up the system instead of the system as a whole. This kind of compartmentalization is prevalent throughout all aspects of municipal waste management. Collection and disposal may be the duty of separate local authorities, and may be contracted out to different private waste management companies. Likewise, different operating companies may control recycling, incineration, composting, and landfill operations (McDougall et al., 2001). Therefore, no one has control over the whole system, making it difficult to manage on a more holistic level. Consequentially, the bulk of the effort remains focused on lower-level priorities such as recycling, which are important, but not sufficient (Gertsakis and Lewis, 2003; UNEP, 2010). Managing waste on a systemic level is particularly difficult in the absence of regulation (Gertsakis and Lewis, 2003). This has been recognized by many governments and other entities, and has sparked a move towards programs and regulations that encourage closing the loop; ‘‘moving from the concept of ‘end-ofpipe’ waste management towards a more holistic resource management’’ (Wilson, 2007, p. 205). Examples of this shift in focus include the push for more ‘sustainable consumption and production’ initiatives and regulations like the European Ecolabel and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, and eco-innovation and national waste prevention programs (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011; European Commission, 2010). Shifting focus upstream to product design and to ‘decoupling’ waste growth from economic growth are a step in the right

direction, but waste management systems in high-income countries are still far from integrated (Wilson, 2007). Progress is still slowed by barriers to policy and program implementation, such as a lack of infrastructure and/or capacity to comply; unequal market development (costs, levies, incentives, etc.) between countries; administrative competency and capacity; enforcement measures; knowledge barriers (gaps, knowledge-sharing, awareness-raising); lack of quantitative targets; and economic ability to comply with targets (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011). It is clear that although considerable efforts are being made by many governments and entities to confront waste-related problems head-on, major gaps still exist in SWM practices in high-income countries. A lack of ‘systems thinking’ has been pinpointed as a major contributor to the inadequacy of these approaches (McDougall et al., 2001; Seadon, 2010; Turner and Powell, 1991). Despite the fact that some types of systems analyses have been applied to SWM issues since the 1960s (Chang et al., 2011), the sector struggles to handle the growing complexities that arise at the nexus of social and ecological systems. This is particularly true in the context of rapidly developing areas where poor SWM practices are impacting the most vulnerable populations. Two schools of thought of particular relevance to the challenges faced in the SWM sector in such regions are those of post-normal science, and complex, adaptive, eco-social systems. The following sections will explore these areas and their relevance to future SWM practices. 4.2. Post-normal science In the mid-1980s, there was a growing community of scientists and social scientists interested in major social and environmental concerns characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and high


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socio-ecological risks, such as acid rain, ozone depletion, and climate change (Turnpenny et al., 2011). Frustrations were growing with the ‘‘normal science’’ of Kuhn (1962), described by Funtowicz and Ravetz (1993, p. 740) to be the ‘‘unexciting, indeed anti-intellectual routine puzzle solving by which science advances steadily between its conceptual revolutions’’. In response to the increasing challenges at the intersection of policy, risk, and environment, Funtowicz and Ravetz (1993) developed a problem-solving framework called ‘‘post-normal science’’ based on the assumptions of incomplete control, unpredictability, and multiple legitimate perspectives. The post-normal science paradigm recognizes the relevance of both process and location, in place and time, and is ‘issue-driven’ as opposed to the ‘curiosity-motivated’, ‘mission-oriented’, or ‘client-serving’ goals of core science, applied science, and professional consultancy, respectively (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993). The authors viewed this emerging science as a platform from which issues that traditional scientific methodologies fail to handle can be approached. Such issues have either high uncertainties (i.e. the scientific, technical, and managerial complexities of the system being considered, and the array of potential results) or high decisionmaking stakes (possible costs, benefits, and value commitments for stakeholders) (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991, 1993; Turnpenny et al., 2011). Post-normal science explicitly challenges traditional approaches to science, recognizing its limitations and the need for unconventional approaches ‘‘when uncertainties are either of the epistemological or the ethical kind, or when decision stakes reflect conflicting purposes among stakeholders’’ (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993, p. 750). It calls for the inclusion of extended peer communities – groups of legitimate participants – in the processes of quality assurance, policy debate, and research. The extension of legitimate peers is not only founded on ethical or political reasons; it also enriches the practice of scientific investigation (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993). Post-normal science also recognizes the value of history and context as essential elements of the scientific process. SWM systems could benefit from a post-normal science perspective; highly complex technical, scientific, and especially managerial aspects (and therefore high uncertainties), and conflicting, often immense costs, benefits, and value commitments for various stakeholders (i.e. high decision stakes) make SWM systems ideal for alternative, post-normal problem-solving approaches. ‘‘Indeed, any of the problems of major technological hazards or large-scale pollution belongs to this class’’ (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993, p. 750). While many SWM systems analyses have considered the importance of uncertainty to decision-making since the 1990s (Chang et al., 2011), most have failed to include multiple, legitimate perspectives, and therefore to consider the high decision stakes associated with SWM processes. Most, especially in developing country contexts, have also failed to develop solutions that truly consider the specific context of the SWM system in question – a critical aspect for developing functional, integrated, and appropriate SWM policies and processes. This is largely due to the lack of real stakeholder involvement; involving all relevant stakeholders in decision making and planning processes can bring together powerful, historical narratives that richly define the particulars of a given context. Such narratives are often implicit, and ‘‘are influential on how we frame problems and manage for perceived improvements’’ (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005, p. 161). This includes the perspectives of so-called ‘objective’ scientists and engineers, who design SWM systems according to their own historical narratives, developed in their own contexts. Creating what Waltner-Toews et al. (2005) call a ‘‘meta-narrative’’, composed of the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders, is particularly important for understanding the constantly changing relationships among governance, decision-making power, and eco-social system dynamics (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005). Revealing this kind of

context, in turn, can provide a rich, holistic perspective of the SWM system, its sub-systems, and the larger systems of which it is a part – addressing the criticism that most SWM systems analyses to date have been narrow-minded and focused on a single problem. A 10-year study conducted by Waltner-Toews et al. (2005) concretely demonstrates the applicability and strength of post-normal approaches to SWM. The study was originally designed to prevent the transmission of a parasitic disease of people associated with a tapeworm of dogs in Kathmandu, Nepal. However, the study eventually shifted away from this single-problem focus; the community became part of the research team, participatory methods were introduced, and through community participation, it became clear that several large-scale issues had to become part of the research focus, including SWM (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005). A new model that did not assume a single, ‘‘correct’’ perspective was created from the narratives of a wide range of community members. This collective narrative brought to light the fact that ‘‘solid waste generation (which attracted dogs) and management was part of a complex set of political, caste, and gender hierarchies which had resisted the technological solutions proposed and transiently implemented’’ (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005, p. 157). The resulting system model enabled the community to identify a range of interactions, strongly divergent perspectives, potential areas of conflict among stakeholder groups, and where negotiation of tradeoffs, visions, and future actions were needed (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005). While this is but one example of the applicability of post-normal science to SWM and the particular tools and methods used by Waltner-Toews et al. (2005) may not be universally effective, the fundamental principles behind their research approach are extremely relevant for SWM decision making, planning, monitoring and optimization. This kind of publicly engaged science that requires and creates uniquely tailored, context specific, locally owned approaches will be crucial for the future of SWM in developing country contexts. 4.3. Systems thinking: The foundations of systems approaches ‘Systems thinking’, a term in good currency in research across many fields, has only been explicitly recognized since the 1950s. The concept was borne out of von Bertalanffy’s mathematical field of a ‘general theory of systems’, which was first presented in Chicago in 1937 and published in a German journal in 1949 (Drack and Schwarz, 2010). Von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory (GST) aimed to promote the ‘Unity of Science’ by providing a language and theory for systemic problem solving in many different disciplines, which were independently stumbling upon general system characteristics and principles (von Bertalanffy, 1950). GST struck a strong chord with researchers ready to part with reductionism across the disciplines, as it was originally intended to do. While interest in GST peaked during the two decades before von Bertalanffy’s death in 1972 and the quest for a general theory of systems subsequently subsided (Drack and Schwarz, 2010), it spawned a plethora of derivatives and sparked a widespread interest in systemic approaches. New systems concepts have emerged, and previously existing ones have since been applied in many subject areas (everything from health care, organizational development, and family research to international development, physical geography, policy, economic analysis, and management science (Chai and Yeo, 2012; Checkland, 2000; Patton, 2002)). According to Checkland (1981), systems thinking is an attempt to escape the reductionism of normal science. Indeed, a holistic perspective is crucial to systems thinking (Patton, 2002). The function and meaning of both a system and its parts are lost when it is taken apart; any system is dependent on its own internal

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interdependencies. Therefore, systems thinking is intrinsically focused on relationships (Checkland, 2000), along with patterns, processes, and context (Capra, 2005). It also ensures in any given situation (at least) three levels are considered: the system (what?), the sub-system (how?), and the wider system (why?) (Checkland, 2000). Several perspectives on the meaning of a ‘systems approach’ exist among researchers. While a vast literature about systems theory and applied systems research has developed since von Bertalanffy’s original publication, much of it has been highly technical and quantitative, involving computer simulations of specifically defined, ‘‘engineered’’ systems whose goals and objectives have been made explicit by external ‘experts’ (Checkland, 2000; Patton, 2002). However, according to Patton (2002, p. 120), ‘‘(1) a systems perspective is becoming increasingly important in dealing with and understanding real-world complexities, viewing things as whole entities embedded in context and still larger wholes; (2) some approaches to systems research lead directly to and depend heavily on qualitative inquiry; and (3) a systems orientation can be very helpful in framing questions and, later, making sense out of qualitative data’’. While systems thinking originated from the ‘hard’ science of mathematics, many researchers felt that a ‘hard’ systems approach was insufficient to handle complex, messy, real world problems (i.e. not the technical problems for which it was developed), and a ‘soft’ systems methodology quickly emerged (Checkland, 2000). This initiated a debate between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ systems methodologies. Essentially, ‘hard’ systems thinking assumes the world is a set of systems that can be engineered to reach easy-to-define goals and objectives, and performance can be measured quantitatively (Chai and Yeo, 2012; Checkland, 2000). On the other hand, ‘soft’ systems thinking uses systems not as representations of the real world but as intellectual devices, based on declared world-views, to explore problematic situations and desirable changes to them; the entire approach is used as an organized ‘learning system’ (Checkland, 2000). Therefore, ‘hard’ systems thinking is ideal for well-defined, technical problems, and ‘soft’ systems thinking is appropriate for poorly defined, messy situations involving social and cultural considerations (Chai and Yeo, 2012; Checkland, 2000). Systems approaches to SWM have been largely of the ‘hard’ variety – narrowly focused, tightly defined, and compartmentalized – the ‘systems’ in question being (predominantly technical) subsystems of a larger messy, ill-defined, eco-social system. The problematic surprises that arise in relation to these tightly defined systems are a result of poorly chosen (i.e. too narrowly drawn) system boundaries. System boundaries – mental models about where a system ends and the rest of the world begins – must be defined in order to simplify the system enough to begin understanding it. Yet these boundaries are almost always artificial, as systems seldom have real boundaries. As Meadows (2008, p. 97) describes, ‘‘there is no single, legitimate boundary to draw around a system. We have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity; and boundaries can produce problems when we forget that we’ve artificially created them’’. SWM practitioners and systems analysts alike are challenged to define suitable system boundaries that are neither too narrow nor too wide. When too narrowly drawn, larger, more complicated problems are often created. For example, if waste is thrown into a river that flows beyond municipal boundaries, human health and ecological wellbeing will be impacted downstream, and the resulting damage will be even more difficult to address. If system boundaries are too broadly drawn, as many system analysts tend to do, enormously complicated analyses are produced that often only obscure the solutions to an already complex problem (Meadows, 2008). Choosing a system boundary that best fits the situation at hand demands mental flexibility and context specificity; boundaries should be re-defined for each new project,


discussion, question, or purpose (Meadows, 2008). When boundaries are chosen, it is imperative to keep in mind that the bounded system description is always a simplification of the real interconnectedness of issues; a system boundary defines what is included in an analysis and what is not, and accepting this simplification can come with consequences. 4.4. Complex, adaptive, eco-social systems Systems theory has provided a baseline from which other innovative perspectives of the world have drawn upon, including cybernetics, catastrophe theory, chaos theory, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, self-organization, and complexity theory (Kay et al., 1999). Complexity can be defined as the domain between linearly determined order and indeterminate chaos (Byrne, 1998). Complexity theory, technically known as nonlinear dynamics, is concerned with modeling and describing complex, non-linear systems and ‘‘developing a unified view of life by integrating life’s biological, cognitive and social dimensions’’ (Capra, 2005, p. 33). Reality is understood to be composed of complex open systems with emergent properties and transformational potential (Byrne, 2005). These characteristics are typical of complex, adaptive systems (CAS), of which eco-social systems are a part. Crucial to these systems is the concept of multiple scales, both spatially and temporally (see Fig. 4). While systems are composed of elements, these elements are themselves wholes, composed of units at a smaller scale. Arthur Koestler (1978) defined this abstract concept of an entity which is both a whole and a part as a ‘holon’, which exists in a nested network of other holons called a ‘holarchy’. Holling (2001) described these ‘hierarchical’ structures as semi-autonomous levels of similar variables that communicate information or material to the next higher, slower, and coarser level. Each level serves two functions: (1) preserving and stabilizing conditions for the quicker, smaller levels; and (2) functioning as an ‘‘adaptive cycle’’ by producing and testing innovations (Holling, 2001). Holling’s representation of an adaptive cycle demonstrates a figure-eight movement between four system functions: from exploitation to conservation, release, and finally reorganization. There are potentially multiple connections between nested sets of adaptive cycles. The connection Holling labelled ‘revolt’ occurs when a smaller, faster level causes a larger, slower level to collapse, demonstrating that changes in quicker, smaller cycles have the ability to influence the behaviour of slower, larger ones. Holling (2001) labelled another key connection ‘remember’, which demonstrates that slower, larger levels can buffer smaller, faster ones from disturbances. Many such relationships can be observed in SWM systems. For example, the rapidly increasing processes of urbanization and consumption overwhelm slower processes, such as institutional capacity building, which can completely overload the SWM system and result in negative SWM practices (e.g. open dumping on land or in water, backyard burning, etc.). After this type of ‘collapse’, Holling (2001) describes how the release of accumulated ‘potential’, high levels of uncertainty, and weak controls can result in surges of innovation and novel recombinations. Hence, waste picking and other informal sector activities emerge as a means to make a living, acting as innovative, reorganized contributions to the system that can no longer serve its community as it did in the past. Self-organization is another key attribute of CAS (Kay et al., 1999; Patton, 2002). Such systems contain a web of positive and negative feedback loops operating over a range of spatial and temporal scales that ‘‘lead both to stable states of self-organization and, in some instances, to surprising outcomes from apparently straightforward interventions’’ (Waltner-Toews et al., 2003, p. 25). Kay et al. (1999) describe self-organization as a dissipative process that CAS undergo when high quality energy, known as


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Fig. 4. Complex adaptive systems: nested sets of four phase adaptive cycles (adapted from Holling (2001)).

‘‘exergy’’, attempts to push the system beyond a critical distance from equilibrium. CAS resist the push away from equilibrium through the spontaneous emergence of dissipative structures and new behaviour, which uses the exergy to organize and maintain the system’s new structure (see Fig. 5). A system’s movement away from equilibrium is often triggered by disturbances such as increased material and energy flow (both can be considered as forms of exergy), or flow of disruptive information. A complex adaptive system’s response to disturbances relates to the magnitude of the disturbances. Therefore, as the

Fig. 5. Conceptual model of the dissipative nature of a self-organizing system (adapted from Kay et al. (1999)).

magnitude or potential impact of disturbances increase, CAS resort to more efficient mechanisms (dissipative structures) to dissipate the disturbance and return to equilibrium. Over time this process results in more complex dynamic systems with greater diversity and increased ability to withstand movement away from equilibrium. The particular manifestation of the dissipative structures is dependent upon the context (i.e. the history and environment in which the system is embedded), the available exergy and other disturbances. Newly emerging structures provide a new context, in which new processes manifest, in which new structures emerge yet again (Kay et al., 1999). Therefore, the contents of the system are the product of the history of the system itself (Checkland, 2000). Kay et al. (1999) define these systems as self-organizing holarchic open (SOHO) systems: ‘‘a nested constellation of self-organizing dissipative process/structures, organized about a particular set of sources of exergy, materials, and information, embedded in a physical environment, that give rise to coherent self-perpetuating behaviours’’ (Kay et al., 1999, p. 724). The tendency to selforganize into ‘‘hierarchical’’ (holarchic) structures is also apparent in SWM systems. For example, as waste generation levels skyrocked in the first half of the 20th century, land availability became an issue of importance, particularly in small European countries. Increased solid waste quantities acted as increased material flow in and out of the system, and land availability acted as disruptive information flows. These two flows formed disturbances sufficient enough to push the waste generation system away from its equilibrium (in this case the paradigm of consumption and waste generation). However, to maintain the status quo (equilibrium), new technologies and practices (dissipative structures) were born, such as incineration, to allow business as usual. New structures were created as new workers were hired and departments were formed

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to manage the inward and outward flow of materials and information. A second example of this kind of self-organization emerged in the 1970s, when the environmental movement pushed for the protection of ecosystems from poor waste management practices. In this case, environmental issues acted as information flows that, in combination with increased waste material flows, disturbed the system’s equilibrium. Instead of moving to a new equilibrium where waste generation levels would be dramatically reduced, recycling facilities began to spring up. As recycling evolved due to sustained pressure to protect the environment, a few recycling streams differentiated into tens and even hundreds of specialized streams, and again, new departments and systemic relationships were generated to manage the flow, pay the workers, and coordinate the selling of raw materials. The waste management system, meanwhile, remained near the original equilibrium of waste generation, though disposal methods had proliferated into a host of hierarchical structures. Many more examples of this kind of adaptation and self-organization in SWM systems exist. In both of these instances, the SWM system resisted a complete flip to a new equilibrium state where waste generation would have dramatically decreased, (more) environmental systems would have collapsed, or a host of other surprises would have occurred. This was accomplished by creating elaborate hierarchies of structure and relationships to reduce disturbances to the system (i.e., consume excess material, or ‘‘exergy’’). However, the maintenance of the current state of equilibrium has required significant input of energy and resources and is pushing waste management systems to their limits of viability in many jurisdictions. The self-organizing tendencies of CAS highlight the challenges humans face in attempting to ‘manage’ them (or our outright inability to do so). It also highlights the potential for surprising outcomes due to ‘‘time lags, cross-scale effects, and what might have been left out [of a system model]. These types of feedback mean that prediction of individual outcomes is limited; prediction of overall system behaviour is only possible in broad outline, and then only if we have historical data to suggest the canon of states available to that system... Such data are rarely available’’ (WaltnerToews et al., 2003, p. 25). Both ecological and human systems exhibit strongly developed self-organized patterns, meaning that linear policies are more likely to produce temporary solutions and many worsening problems in the future (Holling, 2001). Waltner-Toews et al. (2005) hold the view that ecological and social systems are intertwined, and the separation of these systems is both artificial and arbitrary. The term ‘eco-social systems’ acknowledges these connections. Limits for the possible alternative states of such systems are set by the accumulated social, cultural, ecological, and economic capital, in addition to chance innovations (Holling, 2001). SWM systems are certainly eco-social systems, and thus their evolution is shaped by these factors. Central to a CAS approach is the essential need to include multiple perspectives. Kay et al. (1999) consider human values and a diversity of views to be crucial to the process of identifying appropriate methods of investigation necessary to deal with issues in a systemic context. Issues of social reality, which are ‘‘continuously socially constructed and reconstructed by individuals and groups’’ (Checkland, 2000, p. S24), are relevant, as are issues of inclusiveness, mutual trust in the investigation process, and relative power among stakeholders (Kay et al., 1999). Any action taken must be feasible in the context of the local history, relationships, culture, and aspirations of all concerned parties (Checkland, 2000). Cultural context and historical narratives are strongly influential on how public decisions about environment and health are both framed and managed (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005). Ensuring real stakeholder participation in SWM processes – everything from determining what problems are most important to solution implementation – will greatly help to identify system structures,


behavioural tendencies, precious historical information, and potential future system states. Developing this kind of shared understanding of the eco-social SWM systems in developing countries can lay the groundwork for much needed innovation and improvement in the sector. 5. Conclusion While the need for a systems approach to SWM has been both explicitly recognized (e.g. see Seadon (2010)) and inexplicitly recognized through the many calls for ‘integrated’ methodologies, there is a lack of literature exploring the actual application of post-normal approaches and complex, adaptive systems thinking to SWM systems in many developing country contexts. While not a cure-all ‘solution’, this kind of publicly engaged systems thinking can provide some understanding and create approaches for coping with complexity (Waltner-Toews et al., 2008). Collaborating with a host of legitimate peers can also help to create rich ‘‘meta-narratives’’ that enable stakeholders to frame their particular context, and take the next appropriate SWM steps. The need for this kind of context specificity is critical for the future of SWM. It has been widely recognized that it is counterproductive for developing countries to use strategies and policies developed for high-income countries; approaches should be locally sensitive, critical, creative, and ‘owned’ by the community of concern (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Henry et al., 2006; Konteh, 2009; Schübeler, 1996; UN-HABITAT, 2010). Holling suggests beginning an analysis ‘‘with a historical reconstruction of the events that have occurred, focusing on the surprises and crises that have arisen as a result of both external influences and internal instabilities’’, in the ecological, social, political, and economic systems, and the management institutions (Holling, 2001, p. 402). It should be noted that while systems thinking is concerned with how patterns of relationships translate into emergent behaviours (Waltner-Toews et al., 2008), these translations take time and so will any system alterations; delays are inherent in complex systems (Meadows, 2008). It has taken decades for the management, efficiency, and reliability of SWM systems in high-income countries to evolve to the far from ideal states they are currently in (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Wilson (2007) describes the impracticality of current expectations for developing country SWM systems: ‘‘If there is one key lesson that I have learned from 30 years in waste management, it is that there are no ‘quick fixes’. All developed countries have evolved their current systems in a series of steps; developing countries can benefit from that experience, but to expect to move from uncontrolled dumping to a ‘modern’ waste management system in one great leap is just not realistic’’ (Wilson, 2007, p. 205). Approaches developed to handle the complexity of specific developing country contexts, particularly at the nexus of eco-social systems, could contribute substantially to solid waste management research and decision-making in developing country contexts. Thus, there is a need for new approaches emerging from the interface of SWM, post-normal science, and complex-adaptive systems research as the bleak state of SWM systems in many developing regions continues to threaten and degrade the health of the most vulnerable human populations and the ecosystems they are a part of. While systems thinking has played a role in technically-focused SWM research, predominantly in developed countries, solid waste researchers and decision-makers will need to adopt a strongly participatory, contextually grounded complex, adaptive systems perspective if any real progress is to be made in the SWM practices of the developing world. References Bhuiyan, S.H., 2010. A crisis in governance: urban solid waste management in Bangladesh. Habitat International 34 (1), 125–133.


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