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Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

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Waste Management
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/wasman

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 a b s t r a c t

Article history: Solid waste management (SWM) has become an issue of increasing global concern as urban populations
Received 14 September 2012 continue to rise and consumption patterns change. The health and environmental implications associated
Accepted 11 December 2012 with SWM are mounting in urgency, particularly in the context of developing countries. While systems
Available online 26 January 2013
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
Keywords: countries. This review contrasts the history and current paradigms of SWM practices and policies in
Systems approaches
industrialized countries with the current challenges and complexities faced in developing country
Integrated solid waste management
Developing countries
SWM. In industrialized countries, public health, environment, resource scarcity, climate change, and pub-
Industrialized countries lic awareness and participation have acted as SWM drivers towards the current paradigm of integrated
Post-normal science SWM. However, urbanization, inequality, and economic growth; cultural and socio-economic aspects;
Complex adaptive systems 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 in developing countries (e.g. see Charnpratheep and Garner, 1997;

Chang et al., 1997; Chang and Wang, 1996), most models were
The primary purposes of solid waste management (SWM) strat- developed in Canada and the United States (Chang et al., 2011).
egies are to address the health, environmental, aesthetic, land-use, Even in developed country contexts, prior to 2000, very few models
resource, and economic concerns associated with the improper dis- considered social aspects of SWM, focusing solely on the economic
posal of waste (Henry et al., 2006; Nemerow, 2009; Wilson, 2007). and environmental spheres (Morrissey and Browne, 2004). None
These issues are an ongoing concern for nations, municipalities, considered involving all relevant stakeholders, from government
corporations, and individuals around the world (Nemerow, 2009), officials, industry and formal private sector services providers to
and the global community at large (Wilson, 2007). In developing local communities and rag pickers; and none considered the full
countries, the waste produced by burgeoning cities is overwhelm- waste management cycle from prevention to final disposal
ing local authorities and national governments alike (Tacoli, 2012; (Morrissey and Browne, 2004). To date, few models take a holistic
Yousif and Scott, 2007). Limited resources result in the perpetua- perspective of the SWM system; most focus on isolated problems
tion and aggravation of inequalities already being experienced by within the larger system and are of little use to decision makers
the most vulnerable of populations (Konteh, 2009; UNDP, 2010). (Chang et al., 2011; Shmelev and Powell, 2006).
Systems analyses – engineering models, analysis platforms, and While nearly all systems analyses have been unsuccessful at
assessment tools predominantly targeting tightly defined engi- achieving a broad systems perspective of SWM, they have made
neered systems – have been applied to help SWM agencies in more obvious the need for holistic, integrating methodologies that
developed countries since the 1960s (Chang et al., 2011). These address the interconnectedness of socio-cultural, environmental,
system models have been used both as decision-support tools for economic, and technical spheres.
planning processes, and for monitoring and optimizing existing This need is particularly strong in developing countries, where
SWM systems. While some systems analysis tools have been used 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).
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 519 362 7809; fax: +1 519 836 0227. This paper builds upon the work of Wilson (2007), who explores
E-mail addresses: rmarsh01@uoguelph.ca (R.E. Marshall), khosrowf@uoguelph. 6 broad categories of SWM development drivers in developed and
ca (K. Farahbakhsh). developing country contexts. As Wilson (2007) points out, building
Fax: +1 519 836 0227.

0956-053X/$ - see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 989

an understanding about what has driven SWM in the past can pro- and Rome, waste was only relocated well outside city boundaries
vide much needed context and insight for how best to move for- when defenses were threatened because opponents could scale
ward in the future. While the focus of Wilson (2007) is equally up the refuse piles and over the city walls (Worrell and Vesilind,
on the SWM drivers in both industrialized and developing coun- 2012).
tries, this paper tailors this discussion to developing country con- City streets in the Middle Ages were plastered in an odorous
texts by reviewing his drivers as part of the historical backdrop mud composed of soil, stagnant water, household waste, and ani-
that frames current SWM practices in developing countries and mal and human excrement (Louis, 2004). This created very favour-
exploring the present-day issues specific to SWM in developing na- able conditions for vectors of disease. Indeed, the Black Death,
tions. Additionally, while Wilson (2007) closes with the need to which struck Europe in the early 1300s, may have been partially
work towards integrated, sustainable SWM systems that are locally caused by the littering of organic wastes in the streets (Louis,
appropriate to specific developing country contexts, this paper 2004; Tchobanoglous et al., 1977; Worrell and Vesilind, 2012). In
takes his perspective a step further by providing a means to begin colonial America, the urban population lived in similar putrid con-
working towards this goal: post-normal science approaches and ditions (Melosi, 1981). Many initiatives were implemented to clean
complex adaptive systems (CAS) thinking. Thus, this review begins up the streets, but all were short-lived because the poor were fo-
by examining the historical development of SWM in high-income cused feeding themselves and the rich were opposed to paying to
countries. It then explores the state of SWM systems in developing clean up for the poor (Wilson, 2007). However, scarcity of re-
countries by examining the challenges presented by economic, so- sources ensured many items were repaired and reused, and the
cial, cultural, political, and international influences. Finally, it ex- waste stream was thoroughly scavenged (Woodward, 1985).
plores the need for a systemic approach in developing country When SWM progress finally began, it was driven by five princi-
contexts by examining the beneficial perspectives of post-normal pal factors: public health, the environment, resource scarcity and
science and CAS thinking. the value of waste, climate change, and public awareness and par-
It should be noted that the author recognizes that stark situa- ticipation. These driving forces and the progress they instigated are
tional differences exist at all levels: between nations, regions, cit- depicted in Fig. 1.
ies, communities, households, and even individuals. While this
paper makes reference to categories of countries (i.e. developing, 2.2. Driver 1: Public Health – The sanitary revolution
developed, industrialized, high-, medium-, and low-income), by
no means does it imply that the problems are the same amongst The industrial revolution brought rapid expansion to both Euro-
these groups. Indeed, ‘‘we always pay for generality by sacrificing pean and American cities. A new era in sanitation began to take
content, and all we can say about practically everything is almost shape between 1790 and 1850 in London, where the high ash con-
nothing’’ (Boulding, 1956, p. 197); it is for this reason that systems tent of household waste caused by heating and cooking with coal
approaches, which are founded upon specific, locally appropriate created a flourishing market for waste collection and use as a
methodologies, are so crucial to the future of SWM practices. 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 estab-
2. Solid waste management in high-income countries
lished the first clear linkages between disease and poor sanitary
conditions. It was during this time that a governmental interest
The historical forces and mechanisms that have driven the evo-
in public health drove better solid waste management practices
lution of SWM in high-income countries can provide insight about
forward through legislation, enforcement, and investment in infra-
how to move forward in developing country contexts (Wilson,
structure. In 1848 and 1875 Public Health Acts were established,
2007). The following sections explore the origins and principal
the latter of which required households to dispose of their waste
drivers of SWM development in industrialized countries in order
in a moveable receptacle, which local authorities were responsible
to provide some context for the changes that are currently taking
for emptying weekly (see Fig. 1). Similar legislation was imple-
place in developing countries.
mented in other European countries (Wilson, 2007). In American
cities, population density and the reliance on imported goods in-
2.1. Historical origins of solid waste management creased dramatically between 1790 and 1920 (Louis, 2004). Like-
wise, the need to export the waste products of their burgeoning
Humans have been mass-producing solid waste since they first growth beyond immediate city limits increased. Public concern
formed non-nomadic societies around 10,000 BC (Worrell and Ves- about sanitation rose as epidemic diseases continued to rock cities
ilind, 2012). Historically, public health concerns, security, scarcity regularly. Thus, governmental interest in public health drove solid
of resources, and aesthetics acted as central drivers for waste man- waste management improvements in American cities as well
agement systems (Louis, 2004; Melosi, 1981; Ponting, 1991; through legislation and investment in infrastructure (Louis, 2004).
Wilson, 2007; Worrell and Vesilind, 2012). Small communities Public health legislation continued to drive waste management
managed to bury solid waste just outside their settlements or dis- forward in the following century. The first municipal priority was
pose of it in nearby rivers or water bodies, but as population den- to collect and remove waste from the immediate vicinity of resi-
sities increased, these practices no longer prevented the spread of dential areas (Wilson, 2007). Once the waste had been removed
foul odours or disease (Seadon, 2006). As waste accumulated in from underfoot, priorities shifted to other aspects of the waste
these growing communities, people simply lived amongst the filth. management chain, such as the proliferation of landfills (Seadon,
There were exceptions: organized SWM processes were imple- 2006). However, from 1900 to 1970, disposal was for the most part
mented in the ancient city of Mahenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley unregulated and uncontrolled, consisting of dumping and burning
by 2000 BC (Worrell and Vesilind, 2012); the Greeks had both is- (Wilson, 2007). The focus remained on waste collection and trans-
sued a decree banning waste disposal in the streets and organized portation out of the city (UN-HABITAT, 2010).
the Western world’s first acknowledged ‘municipal dumps’ by 500
BC (Melosi, 1981); and Chinese cities had ‘‘disposal police’’ respon- 2.3. Driver 2: Environment – The ‘modernization’ of SWM
sible for enforcing disposal laws by 200 BC. However, as Worrell
and Vesilind (2012, p. 1) so aptly describe, ‘‘for the most part, peo- After the Second World War landfilling was still the principal
ple in cities lived among waste and squalor’’ (p. 1). In both Athens waste disposal method, and rapid growth in consumption from
990 R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

Fig. 1. SWM drivers and progress.

1960 onwards resulted in a larger municipal waste stream with a anaerobic digesters (Wilson, 2007). In the 1990s, integrative policy
higher plastics content (Wolsink, 2010). Finally, the environmental gained much attention because it had become evident that advo-
movement of the 1960s and 1970s brought waste disposal onto the cating for ever-increasing environmental protection was not en-
political agenda in industrialized countries (Wilson, 2007; Wol- ough; an integrative regulatory approach was needed that
sink, 2010), which created a significant shift in policymakers’ per- encompassed not only the technical and environmental but also
spectives on how to approach SWM (Wolsink, 2010). New the political, social, financial, economic, and institutional elements
legislation addressing water pollution and SWM emerged, initially of waste management if environmental protection were to be real-
targeting the elimination of uncontrolled disposal (see Fig. 1). ized (McDougall et al., 2001; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001;
Subsequent SWM legislation increasingly raised environmental Wilson, 2007).
standards to reduce the contamination of land, air, and water
(UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). The environmental movement 2.4. Driver 3: The resource scarcity and value of waste
acted as a primary driver of the policy stages from the 1970s on-
wards (Wilson, 2007). SWM policy from the 1970s to mid-1980s In pre-industrial times, resources were relatively scarce. Any-
focused on waste control, and was therefore characterized by mea- thing vendible in the waste stream was scavenged and consumer
sures such as the daily covering and compacting of landfills and goods were reused and repaired rather than tossed into the waste
retrofitting incinerators for dust control. The following policy stream (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). As cities grew in size
stage, which emerged in the 1980s and continues today, focused during the industrial revolution, the resource value of waste rose
on gradually increasing technical standards, beginning with land- again, and ‘rag pickers’ or ‘street buyers’ collected, used, and sold
fill gas and leachate control, incinerator gas and dioxin reduction, materials from the waste stream; an activity that continues today
and now spanning to odour control for composting facilities and in many developing countries (see Fig. 1) (UN-HABITAT, 2010).
R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 991

However, recycling rates plummeted from the high levels of pre- producer responsibility, and landfill bans for recyclable materials
industrial times to single digits by the 1970s (Wilson, 2007), as this (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). Policies such as the EU Landfill
was a period of immense increase in consumption, strong market- Directive require reductions in levels of biodegradable material
ing of commodities, and little regard for resource consumption. sent to landfill as a method to recover valuable materials and re-
The recycling and reuse that went on in the 19th century was duce methane emissions (Wilson, 2007). This has further increased
sparked again in the 1970s by the European concept of the ‘waste recycling and composting rates, which have been on the rise in cit-
hierarchy’, on which current waste policy in the EU is based (Wil- ies modernizing their waste systems (UN-HABITAT, 2010). How-
son, 2007; Wolsink, 2010). The original idea for the waste hierar- ever, since climate change measures can only have significant
chy was first borne out of the Dutch government’s shortage of impact if many adhere to this objective, there is no immediate na-
landfill sites (Wolsink, 2010), but the idea was propelled forward tional gain from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is the pri-
primarily by the environmental movement. First introduced in mary weakness of this driver, and one of the primary reasons it is
the European Union’s Second Environment Action Programme in so difficult to gain consensus for a post-2012 convention for reduc-
1977 (CEC, 1977), the waste hierarchy is a model of waste manage- ing carbon dioxide levels.
ment priorities based on the ‘‘Ladder of Lansink’’, a hierarchy of
waste handling techniques going in order from prevention to re-
2.6. Driver 5: Public concern and awareness – NIMBY and behavioural
use, 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
Public concern and awareness have also acted as SWM drivers
its value as a resource somewhat acted as a driver for the move
in high-income countries. Poor practices in the past, such as burn-
away from landfilling, though land scarcity primarily led to new
ing dumps and polluting incinerators, have left the public with
treatment options, such as incineration. The waste hierarchy
negative perceptions of new SWM strategies (Wilson, 2007). While
sparked a massive transition from end-of-pipe to preventative
the public may recognize the need for SWM facilities, the common
thinking, which emerged with a multitude of new terms and
‘‘Not In My Backyard’’, or NIMBY, attitude means they would rather
phrases – pollution prevention, source reduction, waste minimiza-
have them located elsewhere (Schübeler, 1996). Wilson (2007, p.
tion, waste reduction, toxics use reduction, clean or cleaner tech-
201) describes how negative perceptions of past facilities ‘‘have
nology, etc. – to replace the old terms that focused on reaction
led to the almost inevitable NIMBY reaction to proposals for any
and control instead of prevention (Hirschhorn et al., 1993).
new waste management facility, no matter how clean or sustain-
This policy shift away from landfilling has significantly in-
able that may be’’. Unsustainable behaviour also inhibits move-
creased the use of medium priority waste handling methods,
ment towards better SWM. Therefore, strategies that include
which were historically more prominent due to resource scarcity
more recycling, repair, reuse, home composting, sustainable con-
but dropped to single digit percentages in Europe during the first
sumption, etc. require behavioural change (Wilson, 2007), which
half of the 20th century. Recycling, for example, has rebounded
Jackson (2005) believes is becoming the ‘holy grail’ of any sustain-
to 25% or higher in Europe (Wilson, 2007), reaching rates as high
able development strategy. The systems that shape patterns of the
as 60% in Austria and the Netherlands (Kollikkathara et al., 2009).
public’s activities create complex barriers to sustainable behaviour.
However, Wilson (2007) points out that this is ‘‘often driven by
Many people are unable to exercise deliberate choice because they
statutory targets rather than by the resource value per se ... recy-
find themselves locked into unsustainable patterns caused by hab-
cling is practiced because it is the right thing to do, not because
its, routines, a lack of knowledge, institutional structures, inequal-
the value of the recovered materials covers the costs’’ (p. 200).
ities in access, social expectations, and cultural values (Jackson,
Many governments, industry members, educators, environment
2005; McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, 1999). Additionally, each form
groups, and programs have adopted and endorsed the waste man-
of sustainable behaviour has a unique and complex set of barriers
agement hierarchy (Gertsakis and Lewis, 2003; Seadon, 2006),
that vary amongst social groups (McKenzie-Mohr and Smith,
which, along with what Seadon (2006) describes as ‘‘an almost
1999). Even seemingly closely associated sustainable behaviour,
mantra-like acceptance among waste professionals’’ (p. 1328),
such as composting and recycling, can be barricaded by different
has sparked a flurry of criticisms. According to Gertsakis and Lewis
sets of obstacles (McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, 1999). Therefore,
(2003), the hierarchy is difficult to implement because solid waste
transferring initiatives that appear successful in a specific context
managers in industry and government have little control over pro-
is unlikely to be effective (Southerton et al., 2011). Overcoming
duction decisions that could influence higher-level priorities, such
public attitudes and unsustainable behaviour requires effective
as waste prevention and minimization. Additionally, McDougall
communication, a broad public understanding of the requirements
et al. (2001) point out that the waste hierarchy does not make
of SWM, and active participation of all relevant stakeholders
room for combinations of techniques, account for costs or specific
throughout all project stages (Schübeler, 1996). For example, some
constraints, lacks scientific or technical basis, and cannot provide
of the top strategies identified for overcoming NIMBY opposition
what is fundamentally needed – an assessment of the context-spe-
include building project supporters before implementation, devel-
cific system as a whole.
oping a comprehensive understanding of causes of opposition, and
acting to remove them through stakeholder consultation, correc-
2.5. Driver 4: Climate change
tion of misinformation, and compromise. These ‘best practices’
have been effective at combating NIMBY opposition to many major
Climate change has acted as an environmental driver since the
development projects (Noto, 2010). Thus, building public aware-
early 1990s, leading to a shift away from landfilling biodegradable
ness through such measures and focusing public concern on the
waste, which is a major source of methane emissions, and a
need to develop sustainable behaviour have acted as SWM drivers.
strengthened focus on energy recovery from waste (UN-HABITAT,
2010; Wilson, 2007). This driver was brought on by the global con-
cern about climate change issues, which led to pressure and advo- 3. Solid waste management in developing countries
cacy around the world. This driver led to a policy stage focused on
waste prevention and target achievements, and characterized by a For a variety of reasons, poor waste management practices and
series of preventative policy measures, including laws and targets associated public health implications remain severely problematic
for compost and recycling goals, diversion from landfill, extended in many developing countries a century and a half after the
992 R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

European sanitary revolution, despite increasing globalization industrial nations – at the start of the 21st century 400 cities con-
(Konteh, 2009). In industrialized nations, the health benefits from tained over a million people, and approximately three-quarters of
solid waste and sanitation systems are largely taken for granted, these urban centers were in low- and middle-income countries
and the focus has moved from sanitation-related communicable (Cohen, 2004). This rapid, unplanned growth has resulted in a
diseases to ‘diseases of affluence’ (cancer, cardiovascular disease, number of extreme land use planning and infrastructural chal-
drug and alcohol abuse) and ‘‘sustainability’’ (Konteh, 2009; Lange- lenges that have crippled the capacity of national and municipal
weg et al., 2000; McGranahan, 2001). Meanwhile, many developing governments to increase SWM service levels at the rate they are
countries are currently affected by the ‘double burden’ of the com- demanded. This, in combination with extremely slow and ineffi-
bined effects of the diseases of affluence and communicable dis- cient institutional structures, has had a disastrous effect on the
eases (Boadi et al., 2005; Konteh, 2009). Wilson (2007, p. 204) quality and reach of SWM services in many regions of the world
points out that ‘‘[i]n some countries, simple survival is such a pre- – one that is projected to worsen in the future. The fact that nearly
dominant concern, that waste management does not feature all of the world’s population growth is projected to occur in urban
strongly on the list of public concerns’’. When SWM is on the public areas (Cohen, 2004) from now until 2050 – much of which will
agenda in developing countries, it is driven by the same concerns take place in the world’s poorer regions – has raised ‘‘concerns
as industrialized countries, although it tends to be driven most about growing urban poverty and the inability of national and city
strongly by public health; the key priority is still getting the waste governments to provide services to the residents of their burgeon-
out from underfoot, as it was for the Europe and the United States ing cities’’ (Tacoli, 2012, p. 5). Many more people will be pushed
up until the 1960s (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Memon, 2010; Rodic into slums, where sanitary conditions are appalling and waste
et al., 2010; Wilson, 2007). Environmental protection is still rela- amenities are non-existent; the number of people living in slums
tively low on the political and public agendas, although this is is now estimated at some 828 million and growing in actual num-
starting to change (Wilson, 2007). Though legislation is often in bers even though 200 million slum-dwellers have moved out of
place requiring closure and phasing out of unregulated disposal, slum quality conditions (UNFPA, 2011).
enforcement tends to be weak (Wilson, 2007). The resource value Almost invariably, the SWM demands of these high-density,
of waste is an important driver in many developing countries to- low-income settlements are inadequately served or neglected alto-
day; informal recycling provides a livelihood for the urban poor gether even though these areas have the greatest need for these
in many parts of the world (UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, 2007). Cli- services since there is no space among the densely packed housing
mate change is an important driver worldwide – the clean devel- for waste burial or composting and they are less able to make alter-
opment mechanism under the Kyoto protocol, in which nate arrangements to dispose of waste (Coffey and Coad, 2010).
developed countries can buy ‘carbon credits’ from developing na- Collection may not be carried out in these unplanned settlements
tions, can provide a key source of income to encourage cities in due to a lack of space for refuse containers, narrow roadways, steep
developing countries to improve waste management systems (Wil- gradients, and unsurfaced roads that standard collection vehicles
son, 2007). cannot manage (see Fig. 3) (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Henry et al.,
Many similarities exist between the historical SWM develop- 2006). Therefore, waste is dumped into open spaces, on access
ment trajectories of industrialized countries and the current trajec- roads and in waterways where disease vectors breed (see Fig. 3)
tories of developing countries. Many cities in lower income nations (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Konteh, 2009). Waste clogs drains, creat-
are experiencing similar conditions to those of the 19th century in ing flooded, stagnant nurseries for mosquitos carrying malaria
high income countries: ‘‘high levels of urbanization, degrading san- and dengue fever. Animals and waste pickers scatter the waste,
itary conditions and unprecedented levels of morbidity and mor- and leachate from garbage heaps percolates into soil and water-
tality, which affected mostly the working class population’’ ways. This results in contaminated food, water, and soil, and seri-
(Konteh, 2009, p. 70). Indeed, increasing urbanization and socio- ous environmental and health implications, particularly for the
economic disparities, inadequate provision of sanitary and envi- most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly (Coffey and Coad,
ronmental amenities, social exclusion and inequalities related to 2010; Tacoli, 2012). This kind of environmental degradation can
existing SWM systems, and high levels of morbidity and mortality also negatively impact the (sometimes fragile) economies of those
linked to inadequate sanitation, waste disposal, and water supply countries that rely heavily on tourism (Henry et al., 2006).
provision were common then as they are today, particularly in
poorer urban neighbourhoods in lower income countries (Konteh, 3.2. Cultural and socio-economic aspects
In spite of the apparent parallels, the contexts in which devel- The structure and functioning of SWM systems are founded on
oping nations are situated are starkly different from the historical the behaviour patterns and underlying attitudes of the population
contexts of developed countries. Rapid urbanization, soaring – factors that are shaped by the local cultural and social context
inequality, and the struggle for economic growth; varying eco- (Schübeler, 1996). The substantial diversity of social and ethnic
nomic, cultural, socio-economic, and political landscapes; gover- groups that often exists within rapidly expanding cities, even with-
nance, institutional, and responsibility issues; and international in individual residential communities, greatly influences munici-
influences have created locally specific, technical and non-techni- palities’ capacities to implement SWM strategies (Schübeler,
cal challenges of immense complexity (see Fig. 3). The following 1996). Public awareness and attitudes towards waste can impact
sections will explore these contextual aspects and the challenges the entire SWM system, from household storage to separation,
they present for SWM systems in the developing world. interest in waste reduction, recycling, demand for collection ser-
vices, willingness to pay for SWM services, opposition to proposed
3.1. Urbanization, inequality, and economic growth locations of waste facilities, the amount of waste in the streets, and
ultimately the success or failure of a SWM system (Henry et al.,
Urbanization has exploded with great speed and scale in recent 2006; Schübeler, 1996; Yousif and Scott, 2007; Zurbruegg, 2003).
decades with ‘‘more than half the world’s population now living in In parts of the Arab world and Latin America, for example, oppor-
urban centres’’ (Tacoli, 2012, p. 4), as countries and even individual tunities to strengthen waste institutions may be limited by the fact
cities struggle to be competitive in the global marketplace (Cohen, that SWM is not seen as an honourable profession (Wilson, 2007).
2004). While just 16 cities contained at least a million people at the The cultural and socio-economic context also influences the
start of the 20th century – the vast majority of which were in waste composition generated by a population (Coffey and Coad,
R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 993

2010; Schübeler, 1996). In some cases, shops sell food that is lar- by forcing millions of displaced people to seek refuge in major cit-
gely pre-prepared, while in others, fresh meat or large quantities ies (Boadi et al., 2005; Konteh, 2009).
of fresh vegetables and fruit drastically alter the waste composi- SWM is also not always a high priority for local and national
tion. Cooking and heating with solid fuel affects the waste compo- policy makers and planners. Other issues with more social and
sition by eliminating items that would otherwise be discarded, political urgency may take precedence and leave little budget for
such as paper, and contributing hot, abrasive ashes to the waste waste issues (Memon, 2010; Yousif and Scott, 2007). In some coun-
stream (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Local architecture, such as mud tries, such as Guatemala, serious SWM project continuity problems
brick housing and unpaved floors can mean large quantities of dust arise because all municipal office workers – including those not in-
and soil enter the waste stream, while sanitary practices can influ- volved in elections – are replaced during any change in govern-
ence the quantity of excreta in the waste (Coffey and Coad, 2010). ment (Yousif and Scott, 2007). This lack of long-term
Socio-economic status at the neighbourhood and household level commitment results in the abandonment of work completed in
affect waste composition: higher literacy increases the paper con- previous terms (Zarate et al., 2008). Projects can also be shelved
tent of waste, and wealthier groups often choose to discard durable due to political fallout between different political parties and local
items instead of repairing them (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Recycling authorities (Henry et al., 2006).
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 3.3.2. Governance
drink containers are reused in the household (Coffey and Coad, In all urban centers around the world, any form of environ-
2010). Informal recycling is carried out by waste pickers, who va- mental management ‘‘is an intensely political task, as different
lue much of what might otherwise enter the waste stream (Coffey interests (including very powerful interests) compete for the most
and Coad, 2010; Schübeler, 1996; UN-HABITAT, 2010; Wilson, advantageous locations, for the ownership or use of resources and
2007). waste sinks, and for publicly provided infrastructure and services’’
Social expectations of waste collection are also dependent on (Hardoy et al., 2001, p. 19). Many of these conflicting interests
waste composition, and therefore on cooking and eating habits. If contribute to the degradation of essential resources and urban
large quantities of odour-generating food (e.g. fish) are consumed, environmental health if good environmental management is ab-
waste collection rates are expected to be more frequent, particu- sent (Hardoy et al., 2001; Konteh, 2009). As these factors have
larly in warmer climates (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Jha et al., gained recognition, there has been a shift in the urban develop-
2011). Disposal is also greatly influenced by social attitudes. Some ment literature from ‘government’, which focuses on the role,
social groups always dispose of waste in the appropriate contain- responsibilities and performance of government bodies, to ‘gover-
ers, while others view the street as an appropriate disposal loca- nance’, which additionally considers the relationship between
tion. Householders and city officials alike may have no interest in government and civil society (Hardoy et al., 2001). Good gover-
whether waste is dumped illegally or sent to a proper disposal nance requires the participation and collaboration of all relevant
facility, as long as it is removed from the urban zone (Coffey and parties, including government, non-governmental organizations
Coad, 2010). In some urban areas, the primary focus is still on food, (NGOs), community groups and the private sector (see Fig. 3)
shelter, security and livelihoods; waste will become a priority only (Konteh, 2009). According to the Asian Development Bank, the
when these more basic needs have been met (Konteh, 2009), and four principle elements of good governance are accountability,
only becomes an issue when public health or environmental dam- participation, predictability, and transparency (Bhuiyan, 2010).
age impact these priorities (Wilson, 2007). 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
3.3. Political landscapes: Policy, governance, institutional issues
efficiency, along with ‘‘the effectiveness of SWM in a city [are
some] of the indices for assessing good governance’’ (Bhuiyan,
Politics inevitably play a large role in SWM systems. The struc-
2010, p. 126). Low-income countries tend to lack the appropriate
ture, functioning, and governance of SWM systems are affected by
governance institutions and structures typically found in high-in-
the relationship between central and local governments, the role of
come countries, such as public policy research institutions, free-
party politics in local government administration, and the extent
dom of information laws, judicial autonomy, auditors general,
that citizens participate democratically in policy making processes
police academies, etc. (Bhuiyan, 2010). This lack of democratic
(Schübeler, 1996). In low-income countries, the greatest challenge
structures and competent, representative local government cre-
‘‘is to strike the right balance between policy, governance, institu-
ates barriers to proper SWM. Political jostling for power means
tional mechanisms and resource provision and allocation’’ (Konteh,
that local authorities base decision-making on the interests of
2009, p. 74).
their parties (Henry et al., 2006; Zurbruegg, 2003). Henry de-
scribes how ‘‘the upgrading of Nairobi slums has not been imple-
3.3.1. Policy mented because some councilors incite their constituents to reject
A democratic, public process of SWM goal formulation is essen- such a move out of an unfounded fear of voters who might be
tial to determine the actual needs of the citizens, and therefore to moved out once slum upgrading efforts get underway. There are
be able to prioritize limited municipal resources in a just manner. instances when some councilors hinder particular projects for
Policy weaknesses are consequently some of the critical causes of political reasons only’’ (Henry et al., 2006, p. 97). Government
failed SWM systems in many low-income countries, as inadequate bodies maintain inflated workforces for political reasons, which
formulation and implementation of realistic policies is common consume much-needed funds (Henry et al., 2006). Petty and high
(see Fig. 3) (Konteh, 2009). While developed countries addressed profile corruption are also rampant in many countries. While ‘‘it
their SWM needs by putting in place effective, functioning policy has been widely recognized that corruption retards economic
measures, ‘‘[i]n many cities of the developing world remedial mea- growth, distorts the political system, debilitates administration
sures have been elusive; efforts are uncoordinated or ad hoc, and and undermines the interests and welfare of the community’’, cor-
the resources invested in the sector inadequate’’ (Konteh, 2009, ruption remains one of the most pervasive and least confronted
p. 72). Additionally, civil unrest and political instability has con- challenges facing public institutions in developing countries
tributed to the growing SWM problem in low-income urban areas (Bhuiyan, 2010, p. 131).
994 R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

3.3.3. Institutions requirements and the actual qualification of the staff at the mana-
Effective SWM requires the definition of clear roles and legal gerial and operational levels’’. Overstaffed local authorities find it
responsibilities of institutions and government bodies to avoid difficult to meet the large wage payments of poorly trained work-
controversies, ineffectiveness, inaction, and making SWM systems ers (Henry et al., 2006).
politically unstable (Schübeler, 1996). Even when regulatory and One substantial way that funds are mismanaged in developing
legislative frameworks exist, governments with weak institutional countries is through the use of techniques from the ‘‘conventional’’
structures are easily overwhelmed by increasing demands for SWM approach of industrialized countries (Henry et al., 2006). Im-
SWM as urban populations explode (Halla and Majani, 1999; Har- ported, sophisticated vehicles and equipment for collection, treat-
doy et al., 2001; Konteh, 2009). ment, and disposal are expensive and difficult to maintain and
Institutional aspects of SWM include: operate (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Zurbruegg, 2003). Frequently,
the waste composition in developing countries is very different
 the degree of decentralization, i.e. distribution of authority, from the waste characteristics they are designed to handle, causing
functions, and responsibilities between central and local gov- them to break down rapidly or be of little use in the first place
ernmental institutions; (Memon, 2010; Zurbruegg, 2003). Typically, within a short period
 the structure of institutional systems responsible for SWM and of time only a small percentage of the vehicle fleet remains in oper-
how they interact with other urban management sectors; ation (Coffey and Coad, 2010).
 organizational procedures, for planning and management; These managerial challenges are compounded by the fact that
 the capacity of responsible institutions; and waste quantities are increasing rapidly in most cities at a greater
 involvement of other sectors, including the private sector and rate than in high-income countries due to increases in wealth
community groups (Schübeler, 1996). and in quantities of waste produced per person, an increase in
the number of people living and working in the city, and rising
Institutional aspects also include the current and future legisla- quantities of waste produced by businesses (UN-HABITAT, 2010).
tion, and the extent to which it is enforced (Zurbruegg, 2003). A
straightforward, transparent, unambiguous legal and regulatory 3.4. International influences
framework, including functioning inspection and enforcement pro-
cedures at the national, provincial, and local levels, is essential to In the absence of strong political or cultural drivers, interna-
the proper functioning of a SWM strategy (Coffey and Coad, 2010; tional financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank, act as
Schübeler, 1996). According to Wilson (2007, p. 203), ‘‘there seems key drivers for SWM development. IFIs generally have a strong fo-
to be general consensus that weak institutions are a major issue in cus on environmental policies (including those related to climate
emerging and developing countries (e.g. Asia, Africa, Latin America, change), poverty reduction, institutional capacity building, good
Russia), so that institutional strengthening and capacity building governance, and private sector participation (see Fig. 3) (Wilson,
becomes a major driver’’ for SWM (see Fig. 3). Enforcement of laws 2007). While most of these focus areas are indeed crucial to prop-
governing regular SWM activities and new project implementation erly functioning solid waste systems, the approaches used by IFIs
is often poor, resulting in improperly functioning SWM systems are not always appropriate for the particular context of their clien-
(Coffey and Coad, 2010; Henry et al., 2006). For example, the ‘‘pol- tele. The World Bank had several unsuccessful SWM projects in the
luter pays’’ policy is inappropriate for many countries because the 1990s (e.g. Philippines, Mexico, Sri Lanka) due in part to weak insti-
lack of enforcement causes large waste generators to simply dump tutions and governance issues, but also due to a lack of financial
illegally (Coffey and Coad, 2010). Developing effective, efficient mu- capacity in the receiving country to sustain the expensive facilities
nicipal SWM plans is difficult in developing countries because data when Bank funding ran out (Wilson, 2007). Indeed, while loans may
on waste generation and composition is largely unreliable and be obtained for infrastructure (CAPEX), in most cases none are
insufficient, seldom capturing system losses or informal activities available for operational expenditures (OPEX). This often leads to
(Jha et al., 2011; Shimura et al., 2001; UN-HABITAT, 2010). operational failures as the IFIs focus their attention solely on the
In developing countries, SWM is often under-funded due to a acquisition and building of infrastructure, not on its operation.
combination of inadequate resources from municipal tax revenues, Unequal funding opportunities within regions and pressure to
insufficient user fees, and the mismanagement of funds (Coffey and meet the same high environmental standards creates affordability
Coad, 2010; Zurbruegg, 2003). This persistent lack of funds pre- issues (Wilson, 2007). Investments in the social sectors are often
vents capacity building and the improvement and expansion of made in areas of global concern over local environmental health
SWM handling capacities (Henry et al., 2006). According to the problems (Hardoy et al., 2001; Konteh, 2009; McGranahan,
World Bank and USAID, it is therefore common for municipalities 2001). At the global arena, preoccupation with the ‘green agenda’,
in developing countries to spend 20–50% of their available munici- which focuses on reducing human impacts on ecosystems and
pal budget on SWM, which often can only stretch to serve less than their natural resources, is thought to be at the expense of the
50% of the population (Henry et al., 2006; Memon, 2010). In low- ‘brown agenda’, which focuses on environmental threats to health
income countries, 80–90% of this budget is spent on collection in poor regions, and is therefore undermining SWM efforts in low-
while in high-income countries less than 10% is spent on collection income countries (Konteh, 2009). Konteh (2009, p. 72) points out
services (Memon, 2010). As the price of land increases, it becomes that ‘‘when sanitation and communicable diseases were a serious
increasingly difficult to for municipalities to site landfills close to problem in Europe and North America, the public health focus
urban areas, while transportation costs become a major constraint was exclusively on those same issues which today fail to receive
to constructing landfills at a distant location (Memon, 2010), exac- adequate attention in the developing world in spite of being a ma-
erbating the problem. Much-needed resources are consumed by jor threat to public health; green environmental issues were not on
inefficiencies, frequently caused by inefficient institutional struc- the agenda then’’.
tures and organizational procedures, and poor management capac- The rising urgency of urban environmental problems and need
ity (Zurbruegg, 2003). Structural problems often arise when for capacity building at the municipal level has directed the atten-
revenue collection and investment decisions happen at the central tion of numerous bilateral and multilateral development agencies
government level while operation and maintenance occur at the to SWM in recent years (Schübeler, 1996; Zarate et al., 2008).
local level. Capacity issues are also common. Schübeler (1996, p. However, these donors may be motivated by bureaucratic proce-
32) states that ‘‘large discrepancies often exist between the job dures or goals of their home offices rather than an understanding
R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 995

of the local situation. van de Klundert (1995) makes several obser- ation between a wide range of stakeholders (Zarate et al., 2008).
vations about this: donor biases exist towards certain technical ap- According to Seadon (2010), the interdisciplinary and multi-sec-
proaches or insistence on the use of equipment that supports their toral considerations needed for the proper management of solid
own export industries; the scale at which donors work is often waste – manufacturing, transportation, urban growth and develop-
inappropriate for local conditions; either too small, without suffi- ment, land use patterns, public health, etc. – highlights ‘‘the inter-
cient consideration for various larger contexts, or too large for a action and complexity between the physical components of the
particular situation; coordination issues arise between donors system and the conceptual components that include the social
from different countries, which may be competing for contracts, and environmental spheres. When waste is seen as part of a ... sys-
and within countries as development agencies work at cross-pur- tem, the relationship of waste to other parts of the system is re-
poses; and donors without the time or political will to produce lo- vealed and thus the potential for greater sustainability of the
cally appropriate results opt for large, technical interventions operation increases. Conceptually, this broader view increases
rather than small-scale, context appropriate approaches, since they the difficulty of managing waste requiring an approach that han-
are easier to understand, finance, and monitor. dles complexity’’ (Seadon, 2010, p. 1641). However, the conven-
Coffey and Coad (2010) report that the objective of many for- tional SWM approach is reductionist, not tailored to handle
eign aid programs for SWM in developing countries is to capture complexity; interacting systems and their elements are divided
markets for supplying sophisticated machinery and related spare into ever-smaller parts. System processes, such as waste genera-
parts, which are more often than not completely inappropriate tion, collection, and disposal operations, are considered indepen-
for local conditions. Additionally, municipal SWM is often a com- dently, though each is interlinked and influenced by the others
ponent within a wider development program aimed at improving (Seadon, 2010). This reductionist approach is even applied to
urban environmental projection and/or urban management capac- waste, as it is not a single entity that can be easily managed
ity, meaning many bilateral and multilateral development agencies (Dijkema et al., 2000). It is typically separated into many primary
lack the considerable expertise needed to implement successful and many more secondary classifications, and waste streams from
SWM programs (Schübeler, 1996). different sectors, such as residential and commercial, are often
Such issues have a detrimental effect on the evolution of SWM considered separately (Seadon, 2010). Techniques therefore tend
practices in many developing countries. Zarate et al. (2008, p. to focus on dealing with one type of waste at a time, leading to a
2543) point out that ‘‘in spite of the million-dollar loans and grants focus on single technologies instead of waste management sys-
that developing countries have received to improve the basic ser- tems. Consequentially, one waste problem can be solved, but other
vices sector, including SWM, the lack of suitable qualified human waste problems are often generated with each compartmentalized
resources contributed to the inability of municipalities and com- ‘solution’ (Dijkema et al., 2000). This tendency to analyze things in
munities to implement new projects’’. Grants or loans for sanitary small, understandable pieces, to trace straight paths from cause to
landfill construction do not always result in the actual use of this effect, and to problem solve by attempting to control the system of
method of disposal; well-trained personnel and sufficient financial concern is increasingly being recognized as problematic (Fun-
support for a reasonable standard of operation are also necessary towicz and Ravetz, 1993; Meadows, 2008). This is evidenced in
(Zurbruegg, 2003). Many SWM projects initially funded through the SWM sector by the growing demand for SWM approaches that
grants or loans have had problems obtaining continued external recognize the social, cultural, political, and environmental spheres;
funding to operate and maintain SWM systems (Coffey and Coad, that engage with a broad community of stakeholders; and that
2010). Overseas consultants often recommend techniques and consider the larger system through holistic, integrating
equipment developed in counties with extremely different social methodologies
and economic conditions, and entirely different waste characteris- (Carabias et al., 1999; Dijkema et al., 2000; Henry et al., 2006;
tics (Coffey and Coad, 2010). For example, numerous cases have McDougall et al., 2001; Morrissey and Browne, 2004; Petts, 2000;
been documented in which expensive, sophisticated composting Seadon, 2006, 2010; Turner and Powell, 1991; Wilson, 2007; Zarate
and recycling plants have failed for a wide range of reasons: the et al., 2008).
use of imported, inappropriate technology that is too expensive or
difficult to maintain; limited development of a market for recycla- 4.1. Integrated solid waste management – The current paradigm
ble materials; absence of technical personnel to with operational or
management capacity; failure to complete the necessary financial Integrated solid waste management (ISWM), the current SWM
and economic appraisals; and failure to adequately consult signifi- paradigm that has been widely accepted throughout the developed
cant stakeholders and the public (Yousif and Scott, 2007). world, emerged from the policy shift away from landfilling and the
Researchers are calling for multifaceted SWM methods that are push for a broader perspective that began in the 1990s. While the
considered on a case-to-case basis and tailored to each commu- ‘modern’ SWM practices that began in the 1970s were defined in
nity’s individual needs (Jha et al., 2011; Yousif and Scott, 2007). engineering terms – technical problems with technical solutions
Schübeler (1996, p. 19) aptly summarizes the need for a different (van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001), the concept of ISWM strives
approach: ‘‘The essential condition of sustainability implies that to strike a balance between three dimensions of waste manage-
waste management systems must be absorbed and carried by the ment: environmental effectiveness, social acceptability, and eco-
society and its local communities. These systems must, in other nomic affordability (see Fig. 2). (McDougall et al., 2001;
words, be appropriate to the particular circumstances and prob- Morrissey and Browne, 2004; Petts, 2000; Thomas and McDougall,
lems of the city and locality, employing and developing the capac- 2005; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). ISWM also focuses on
ities of all stakeholders, including the households and communities the integration of the many inter-related processes and entities that
requiring service, private sector enterprises and workers (both for- make up a waste management system (McDougall et al., 2001). To
mal and informal), and government agencies at the local, regional reduce environmental impacts and drive costs down, a system
and national levels’’ [original emphasis]. should be integrated (in waste materials, sources of waste, and
treatment methods), market oriented (i.e. energy and materials
4. The need for a systems approach have end uses), and flexible, allowing for continual improvement
(McDougall et al., 2001). ISWM systems are tailored to specific
Managing waste is a complex task that requires appropriate community goals by incorporating stakeholders’ perspectives and
technical solutions, sufficient organizational capacity, and co-oper- needs; the local context (from the technical, such as waste
996 R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

Fig. 2. Integrated solid waste management.

characteristics, to the cultural, political, social, environmental, eco- Traditionally, the term ‘waste’ has assumed a negative connota-
nomic and institutional); and the optimal combination of available, tion, but it is a subjective concept – a label applied to something
appropriate methods of prevention, reduction, recovery and dis- unwanted by the person discarding it (Dijkema et al., 2000; van
posal (Kollikkathara et al., 2009; McDougall et al., 2001; van de de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). In the context of ISWM, ‘waste’
Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). bears a negative connotation only if it cannot be regarded as a re-
It has been widely recognized that waste management systems source that that has not been used to its full potential and can sub-
that ignore social components and priorities are doomed to failure sequently be processed to produce useful energy or goods
(Carabias et al., 1999; Dijkema et al., 2000; Henry et al., 2006; (Dijkema et al., 2000; van de Klundert and Anschutz, 2001). In this
Morrissey and Browne, 2004; Petts, 2000). The issues of public sense, ISWM incorporates elements of the waste hierarchy ‘‘by
acceptance, changing value systems, public participation in plan- considering direct impacts (transportation, collection, treatment
ning and implementation stages, and consumer behaviour are and disposal of waste) and indirect impacts (use of waste materials
equally as important as the technical and economic aspects of and energy outside the waste management system)’’ (Seadon,
waste management (Carabias et al., 1999). Effective waste manage- 2006, p. 1328). However, unlike the hierarchy, ISWM does not
ment must be fully embraced by local authorities and the public define the ‘best’ system, as there is no universal best system
sphere, and go beyond traditional consultative methods that re- (McDougall et al., 2001). In reality, ISWM is a theoretical, optimal
quire the ‘expert’ to outline a solution prior to public involvement outcome – a framework from which new systems can be designed
(Henry et al., 2006; Morrissey and Browne, 2004). Key elements to and implemented and existing ones can be optimized (UNEP,
the success of these programs are public participation and empow- 1996). However, the integrated nature of ISWM creates a host of
erment, decision transparency, networking, co-operation and col- variables that may pull a system in different directions. Clearly, it
lective action, communication, and accessibility of information is difficult to optimize more than one variable, and for this reason
(Carabias et al., 1999; Zarate et al., 2008). However, it has been dif- there will always be trade-offs (McDougall et al., 2001). No ISWM
ficult to fully integrate stakeholders and ensure public involve- system design will achieve either environmental or economic sus-
ment (Morrissey and Browne, 2004); this is in large part due to tainability because ‘‘[t]his is a total quality objective ... it can never
the fact that citizens did not shape the SWM systems they depend be reached, since it will always be possible to reduce environmen-
upon. These systems were shaped by technically minded ‘‘experts’’ tal impacts further, but it will lead to continual improvements’’
who defined and designed the system in engineering terms. (McDougall et al., 2001, p. 19).
R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 997

Fig. 3. Developing country SWM context.

Despite the fact that ISWM is a holistic ideal, it has become some- direction, but waste management systems in high-income coun-
what of a buzzword with a different meaning in practice. Often tries are still far from integrated (Wilson, 2007). Progress is still
much of what is termed ‘integrated waste management’ simply slowed by barriers to policy and program implementation, such
incorporates the waste hierarchy and may attempt to engage with as a lack of infrastructure and/or capacity to comply; unequal mar-
stakeholders early on, but lacks actual integration. Thornloe et al. ket development (costs, levies, incentives, etc.) between countries;
(1997), for example, observed that in the United States many ‘ISWM’ administrative competency and capacity; enforcement measures;
programs focused on individual components making up the system knowledge barriers (gaps, knowledge-sharing, awareness-raising);
instead of the system as a whole. This kind of compartmentalization lack of quantitative targets; and economic ability to comply with
is prevalent throughout all aspects of municipal waste management. targets (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011).
Collection and disposal may be the duty of separate local authorities, It is clear that although considerable efforts are being made by
and may be contracted out to different private waste management many governments and entities to confront waste-related prob-
companies. Likewise, different operating companies may control lems head-on, major gaps still exist in SWM practices in high-in-
recycling, incineration, composting, and landfill operations (McDou- come countries. A lack of ‘systems thinking’ has been pinpointed
gall et al., 2001). Therefore, no one has control over the whole sys- as a major contributor to the inadequacy of these approaches
tem, making it difficult to manage on a more holistic level. (McDougall et al., 2001; Seadon, 2010; Turner and Powell, 1991).
Consequentially, the bulk of the effort remains focused on lower-le- Despite the fact that some types of systems analyses have been ap-
vel priorities such as recycling, which are important, but not suffi- plied to SWM issues since the 1960s (Chang et al., 2011), the sector
cient (Gertsakis and Lewis, 2003; UNEP, 2010). struggles to handle the growing complexities that arise at the
Managing waste on a systemic level is particularly difficult in nexus of social and ecological systems. This is particularly true in
the absence of regulation (Gertsakis and Lewis, 2003). This has the context of rapidly developing areas where poor SWM practices
been recognized by many governments and other entities, and are impacting the most vulnerable populations. Two schools of
has sparked a move towards programs and regulations that thought of particular relevance to the challenges faced in the
encourage closing the loop; ‘‘moving from the concept of ‘end-of- SWM sector in such regions are those of post-normal science,
pipe’ waste management towards a more holistic resource manage- and complex, adaptive, eco-social systems. The following sections
ment’’ (Wilson, 2007, p. 205). Examples of this shift in focus include will explore these areas and their relevance to future SWM
the push for more ‘sustainable consumption and production’ initia- practices.
tives and regulations like the European Ecolabel and the Eco-Man-
agement and Audit Scheme, and eco-innovation and national 4.2. Post-normal science
waste prevention programs (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011; Euro-
pean Commission, 2010). In the mid-1980s, there was a growing community of scientists
Shifting focus upstream to product design and to ‘decoupling’ and social scientists interested in major social and environmental
waste growth from economic growth are a step in the right concerns characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and high
998 R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

socio-ecological risks, such as acid rain, ozone depletion, and cli- context, in turn, can provide a rich, holistic perspective of the
mate change (Turnpenny et al., 2011). Frustrations were growing SWM system, its sub-systems, and the larger systems of which it
with the ‘‘normal science’’ of Kuhn (1962), described by Funtowicz is a part – addressing the criticism that most SWM systems analy-
and Ravetz (1993, p. 740) to be the ‘‘unexciting, indeed anti-intel- ses to date have been narrow-minded and focused on a single
lectual routine puzzle solving by which science advances steadily problem.
between its conceptual revolutions’’. In response to the increasing A 10-year study conducted by Waltner-Toews et al. (2005) con-
challenges at the intersection of policy, risk, and environment, Fun- cretely demonstrates the applicability and strength of post-normal
towicz and Ravetz (1993) developed a problem-solving framework approaches to SWM. The study was originally designed to prevent
called ‘‘post-normal science’’ based on the assumptions of incom- the transmission of a parasitic disease of people associated with a
plete control, unpredictability, and multiple legitimate perspec- tapeworm of dogs in Kathmandu, Nepal. However, the study even-
tives. The post-normal science paradigm recognizes the relevance tually shifted away from this single-problem focus; the community
of both process and location, in place and time, and is ‘issue-driven’ became part of the research team, participatory methods were
as opposed to the ‘curiosity-motivated’, ‘mission-oriented’, or ‘cli- introduced, and through community participation, it became clear
ent-serving’ goals of core science, applied science, and professional that several large-scale issues had to become part of the research
consultancy, respectively (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993). The focus, including SWM (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005). A new model
authors viewed this emerging science as a platform from which is- that did not assume a single, ‘‘correct’’ perspective was created
sues that traditional scientific methodologies fail to handle can be from the narratives of a wide range of community members. This
approached. Such issues have either high uncertainties (i.e. the sci- collective narrative brought to light the fact that ‘‘solid waste gen-
entific, technical, and managerial complexities of the system being eration (which attracted dogs) and management was part of a
considered, and the array of potential results) or high decision- complex set of political, caste, and gender hierarchies which had
making stakes (possible costs, benefits, and value commitments resisted the technological solutions proposed and transiently
for stakeholders) (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991, 1993; Turnpenny implemented’’ (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005, p. 157). The resulting
et al., 2011). system model enabled the community to identify a range of inter-
Post-normal science explicitly challenges traditional ap- actions, strongly divergent perspectives, potential areas of conflict
proaches to science, recognizing its limitations and the need for among stakeholder groups, and where negotiation of tradeoffs, vi-
unconventional approaches ‘‘when uncertainties are either of the sions, and future actions were needed (Waltner-Toews et al.,
epistemological or the ethical kind, or when decision stakes reflect 2005).
conflicting purposes among stakeholders’’ (Funtowicz and Ravetz, While this is but one example of the applicability of post-nor-
1993, p. 750). It calls for the inclusion of extended peer communi- mal science to SWM and the particular tools and methods used
ties – groups of legitimate participants – in the processes of quality by Waltner-Toews et al. (2005) may not be universally effective,
assurance, policy debate, and research. The extension of legitimate the fundamental principles behind their research approach are ex-
peers is not only founded on ethical or political reasons; it also en- tremely relevant for SWM decision making, planning, monitoring
riches the practice of scientific investigation (Funtowicz and Ra- and optimization. This kind of publicly engaged science that re-
vetz, 1993). Post-normal science also recognizes the value of quires and creates uniquely tailored, context specific, locally
history and context as essential elements of the scientific process. owned approaches will be crucial for the future of SWM in devel-
SWM systems could benefit from a post-normal science per- oping country contexts.
spective; highly complex technical, scientific, and especially man-
agerial aspects (and therefore high uncertainties), and conflicting, 4.3. Systems thinking: The foundations of systems approaches
often immense costs, benefits, and value commitments for various
stakeholders (i.e. high decision stakes) make SWM systems ideal ‘Systems thinking’, a term in good currency in research across
for alternative, post-normal problem-solving approaches. ‘‘Indeed, many fields, has only been explicitly recognized since the 1950s.
any of the problems of major technological hazards or large-scale The concept was borne out of von Bertalanffy’s mathematical field
pollution belongs to this class’’ (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993, p. of a ‘general theory of systems’, which was first presented in Chi-
750). While many SWM systems analyses have considered the cago in 1937 and published in a German journal in 1949 (Drack
importance of uncertainty to decision-making since the 1990s and Schwarz, 2010). Von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory
(Chang et al., 2011), most have failed to include multiple, legiti- (GST) aimed to promote the ‘Unity of Science’ by providing a lan-
mate perspectives, and therefore to consider the high decision guage and theory for systemic problem solving in many different
stakes associated with SWM processes. Most, especially in devel- disciplines, which were independently stumbling upon general
oping country contexts, have also failed to develop solutions that system characteristics and principles (von Bertalanffy, 1950). GST
truly consider the specific context of the SWM system in question struck a strong chord with researchers ready to part with reduc-
– a critical aspect for developing functional, integrated, and appro- tionism across the disciplines, as it was originally intended to do.
priate SWM policies and processes. This is largely due to the lack of While interest in GST peaked during the two decades before von
real stakeholder involvement; involving all relevant stakeholders Bertalanffy’s death in 1972 and the quest for a general theory of
in decision making and planning processes can bring together systems subsequently subsided (Drack and Schwarz, 2010), it
powerful, historical narratives that richly define the particulars of spawned a plethora of derivatives and sparked a widespread inter-
a given context. Such narratives are often implicit, and ‘‘are influ- est in systemic approaches. New systems concepts have emerged,
ential on how we frame problems and manage for perceived and previously existing ones have since been applied in many sub-
improvements’’ (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005, p. 161). This includes ject areas (everything from health care, organizational develop-
the perspectives of so-called ‘objective’ scientists and engineers, ment, and family research to international development, physical
who design SWM systems according to their own historical geography, policy, economic analysis, and management science
narratives, developed in their own contexts. Creating what (Chai and Yeo, 2012; Checkland, 2000; Patton, 2002)).
Waltner-Toews et al. (2005) call a ‘‘meta-narrative’’, composed of According to Checkland (1981), systems thinking is an attempt
the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders, is particularly impor- to escape the reductionism of normal science. Indeed, a holistic
tant for understanding the constantly changing relationships perspective is crucial to systems thinking (Patton, 2002). The func-
among governance, decision-making power, and eco-social system tion and meaning of both a system and its parts are lost when it is
dynamics (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005). Revealing this kind of taken apart; any system is dependent on its own internal
R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 999

interdependencies. Therefore, systems thinking is intrinsically fo- discussion, question, or purpose (Meadows, 2008). When bound-
cused on relationships (Checkland, 2000), along with patterns, pro- aries are chosen, it is imperative to keep in mind that the bounded
cesses, and context (Capra, 2005). It also ensures in any given system description is always a simplification of the real intercon-
situation (at least) three levels are considered: the system (what?), nectedness of issues; a system boundary defines what is included
the sub-system (how?), and the wider system (why?) (Checkland, in an analysis and what is not, and accepting this simplification
2000). can come with consequences.
Several perspectives on the meaning of a ‘systems approach’ ex-
ist among researchers. While a vast literature about systems the- 4.4. Complex, adaptive, eco-social systems
ory and applied systems research has developed since von
Bertalanffy’s original publication, much of it has been highly tech- Systems theory has provided a baseline from which other inno-
nical and quantitative, involving computer simulations of specifi- vative perspectives of the world have drawn upon, including
cally defined, ‘‘engineered’’ systems whose goals and objectives cybernetics, catastrophe theory, chaos theory, non-equilibrium
have been made explicit by external ‘experts’ (Checkland, 2000; thermodynamics, self-organization, and complexity theory (Kay
Patton, 2002). However, according to Patton (2002, p. 120), ‘‘(1) a et al., 1999). Complexity can be defined as the domain between lin-
systems perspective is becoming increasingly important in dealing early determined order and indeterminate chaos (Byrne, 1998).
with and understanding real-world complexities, viewing things as Complexity theory, technically known as nonlinear dynamics, is
whole entities embedded in context and still larger wholes; (2) concerned with modeling and describing complex, non-linear sys-
some approaches to systems research lead directly to and depend tems and ‘‘developing a unified view of life by integrating life’s bio-
heavily on qualitative inquiry; and (3) a systems orientation can be logical, cognitive and social dimensions’’ (Capra, 2005, p. 33).
very helpful in framing questions and, later, making sense out of Reality is understood to be composed of complex open systems
qualitative data’’. While systems thinking originated from the with emergent properties and transformational potential (Byrne,
‘hard’ science of mathematics, many researchers felt that a ‘hard’ 2005). These characteristics are typical of complex, adaptive sys-
systems approach was insufficient to handle complex, messy, real tems (CAS), of which eco-social systems are a part. Crucial to these
world problems (i.e. not the technical problems for which it was systems is the concept of multiple scales, both spatially and tem-
developed), and a ‘soft’ systems methodology quickly emerged porally (see Fig. 4).
(Checkland, 2000). This initiated a debate between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ While systems are composed of elements, these elements are
systems methodologies. Essentially, ‘hard’ systems thinking as- themselves wholes, composed of units at a smaller scale. Arthur
sumes the world is a set of systems that can be engineered to reach Koestler (1978) defined this abstract concept of an entity which
easy-to-define goals and objectives, and performance can be mea- is both a whole and a part as a ‘holon’, which exists in a nested net-
sured quantitatively (Chai and Yeo, 2012; Checkland, 2000). On the work of other holons called a ‘holarchy’. Holling (2001) described
other hand, ‘soft’ systems thinking uses systems not as representa- these ‘hierarchical’ structures as semi-autonomous levels of similar
tions of the real world but as intellectual devices, based on de- variables that communicate information or material to the next
clared world-views, to explore problematic situations and higher, slower, and coarser level. Each level serves two functions:
desirable changes to them; the entire approach is used as an orga- (1) preserving and stabilizing conditions for the quicker, smaller
nized ‘learning system’ (Checkland, 2000). Therefore, ‘hard’ sys- levels; and (2) functioning as an ‘‘adaptive cycle’’ by producing
tems thinking is ideal for well-defined, technical problems, and and testing innovations (Holling, 2001). Holling’s representation
‘soft’ systems thinking is appropriate for poorly defined, messy sit- of an adaptive cycle demonstrates a figure-eight movement be-
uations involving social and cultural considerations (Chai and Yeo, tween four system functions: from exploitation to conservation,
2012; Checkland, 2000). release, and finally reorganization. There are potentially multiple
Systems approaches to SWM have been largely of the ‘hard’ connections between nested sets of adaptive cycles. The connec-
variety – narrowly focused, tightly defined, and compartmental- tion Holling labelled ‘revolt’ occurs when a smaller, faster level
ized – the ‘systems’ in question being (predominantly technical) causes a larger, slower level to collapse, demonstrating that
subsystems of a larger messy, ill-defined, eco-social system. The changes in quicker, smaller cycles have the ability to influence
problematic surprises that arise in relation to these tightly defined the behaviour of slower, larger ones. Holling (2001) labelled an-
systems are a result of poorly chosen (i.e. too narrowly drawn) sys- other key connection ‘remember’, which demonstrates that slower,
tem boundaries. System boundaries – mental models about where larger levels can buffer smaller, faster ones from disturbances.
a system ends and the rest of the world begins – must be defined in Many such relationships can be observed in SWM systems. For
order to simplify the system enough to begin understanding it. Yet example, the rapidly increasing processes of urbanization and con-
these boundaries are almost always artificial, as systems seldom sumption overwhelm slower processes, such as institutional
have real boundaries. As Meadows (2008, p. 97) describes, ‘‘there capacity building, which can completely overload the SWM system
is no single, legitimate boundary to draw around a system. We and result in negative SWM practices (e.g. open dumping on land
have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity; and boundaries or in water, backyard burning, etc.). After this type of ‘collapse’,
can produce problems when we forget that we’ve artificially cre- Holling (2001) describes how the release of accumulated ‘poten-
ated them’’. SWM practitioners and systems analysts alike are tial’, high levels of uncertainty, and weak controls can result in
challenged to define suitable system boundaries that are neither surges of innovation and novel recombinations. Hence, waste pick-
too narrow nor too wide. When too narrowly drawn, larger, more ing and other informal sector activities emerge as a means to make
complicated problems are often created. For example, if waste is a living, acting as innovative, reorganized contributions to the sys-
thrown into a river that flows beyond municipal boundaries, hu- tem that can no longer serve its community as it did in the past.
man health and ecological wellbeing will be impacted down- Self-organization is another key attribute of CAS (Kay et al.,
stream, and the resulting damage will be even more difficult to 1999; Patton, 2002). Such systems contain a web of positive and
address. If system boundaries are too broadly drawn, as many sys- negative feedback loops operating over a range of spatial and tem-
tem analysts tend to do, enormously complicated analyses are pro- poral scales that ‘‘lead both to stable states of self-organization
duced that often only obscure the solutions to an already complex and, in some instances, to surprising outcomes from apparently
problem (Meadows, 2008). Choosing a system boundary that best straightforward interventions’’ (Waltner-Toews et al., 2003, p.
fits the situation at hand demands mental flexibility and context 25). Kay et al. (1999) describe self-organization as a dissipative
specificity; boundaries should be re-defined for each new project, process that CAS undergo when high quality energy, known as
1000 R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003

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 magnitude or potential impact of disturbances increase, CAS resort
from equilibrium. CAS resist the push away from equilibrium to more efficient mechanisms (dissipative structures) to dissipate
through the spontaneous emergence of dissipative structures and the disturbance and return to equilibrium. Over time this process
new behaviour, which uses the exergy to organize and maintain results in more complex dynamic systems with greater diversity
the system’s new structure (see Fig. 5). and increased ability to withstand movement away from equilib-
A system’s movement away from equilibrium is often triggered rium. The particular manifestation of the dissipative structures is
by disturbances such as increased material and energy flow (both dependent upon the context (i.e. the history and environment in
can be considered as forms of exergy), or flow of disruptive infor- which the system is embedded), the available exergy and other dis-
mation. A complex adaptive system’s response to disturbances turbances. Newly emerging structures provide a new context, in
relates to the magnitude of the disturbances. Therefore, as the 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 hol-
archic open (SOHO) systems: ‘‘a nested constellation of self-orga-
nizing 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-perpetuat-
ing behaviours’’ (Kay et al., 1999, p. 724). The tendency to self-
organize into ‘‘hierarchical’’ (holarchic) structures is also apparent
in SWM systems. For example, as waste generation levels sky-
rocked 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 equi-
librium (in this case the paradigm of consumption and waste gen-
eration). However, to maintain the status quo (equilibrium), new
technologies and practices (dissipative structures) were born, such
Fig. 5. Conceptual model of the dissipative nature of a self-organizing system as incineration, to allow business as usual. New structures were
(adapted from Kay et al. (1999)). created as new workers were hired and departments were formed
R.E. Marshall, K. Farahbakhsh / Waste Management 33 (2013) 988–1003 1001

to manage the inward and outward flow of materials and informa- behavioural tendencies, precious historical information, and po-
tion. A second example of this kind of self-organization emerged in tential future system states. Developing this kind of shared under-
the 1970s, when the environmental movement pushed for the pro- standing of the eco-social SWM systems in developing countries
tection of ecosystems from poor waste management practices. In can lay the groundwork for much needed innovation and improve-
this case, environmental issues acted as information flows that, ment in the sector.
in combination with increased waste material flows, disturbed
the system’s equilibrium. Instead of moving to a new equilibrium 5. Conclusion
where waste generation levels would be dramatically reduced,
recycling facilities began to spring up. As recycling evolved due While the need for a systems approach to SWM has been both
to sustained pressure to protect the environment, a few recycling explicitly recognized (e.g. see Seadon (2010)) and inexplicitly recog-
streams differentiated into tens and even hundreds of specialized nized through the many calls for ‘integrated’ methodologies, there is
streams, and again, new departments and systemic relationships a lack of literature exploring the actual application of post-normal
were generated to manage the flow, pay the workers, and coordi- approaches and complex, adaptive systems thinking to SWM sys-
nate the selling of raw materials. The waste management system, tems in many developing country contexts. While not a cure-all
meanwhile, remained near the original equilibrium of waste gen- ‘solution’, this kind of publicly engaged systems thinking can pro-
eration, though disposal methods had proliferated into a host of vide some understanding and create approaches for coping with
hierarchical structures. Many more examples of this kind of adap- complexity (Waltner-Toews et al., 2008). Collaborating with a host
tation and self-organization in SWM systems exist. In both of these of legitimate peers can also help to create rich ‘‘meta-narratives’’
instances, the SWM system resisted a complete flip to a new equi- that enable stakeholders to frame their particular context, and take
librium state where waste generation would have dramatically de- the next appropriate SWM steps. The need for this kind of context
creased, (more) environmental systems would have collapsed, or a specificity is critical for the future of SWM. It has been widely recog-
host of other surprises would have occurred. This was accom- nized that it is counterproductive for developing countries to use
plished by creating elaborate hierarchies of structure and relation- strategies and policies developed for high-income countries; ap-
ships to reduce disturbances to the system (i.e., consume excess proaches should be locally sensitive, critical, creative, and ‘owned’
material, or ‘‘exergy’’). However, the maintenance of the current by the community of concern (Coffey and Coad, 2010; Henry et al.,
state of equilibrium has required significant input of energy and re- 2006; Konteh, 2009; Schübeler, 1996; UN-HABITAT, 2010). Holling
sources and is pushing waste management systems to their limits suggests beginning an analysis ‘‘with a historical reconstruction of
of viability in many jurisdictions. the events that have occurred, focusing on the surprises and crises
The self-organizing tendencies of CAS highlight the challenges that have arisen as a result of both external influences and internal
humans face in attempting to ‘manage’ them (or our outright instabilities’’, in the ecological, social, political, and economic sys-
inability to do so). It also highlights the potential for surprising tems, and the management institutions (Holling, 2001, p. 402).
outcomes due to ‘‘time lags, cross-scale effects, and what might It should be noted that while systems thinking is concerned with
have been left out [of a system model]. These types of feedback how patterns of relationships translate into emergent behaviours
mean that prediction of individual outcomes is limited; prediction (Waltner-Toews et al., 2008), these translations take time and so
of overall system behaviour is only possible in broad outline, and will any system alterations; delays are inherent in complex systems
then only if we have historical data to suggest the canon of states (Meadows, 2008). It has taken decades for the management, effi-
available to that system... Such data are rarely available’’ (Waltner- ciency, and reliability of SWM systems in high-income countries
Toews et al., 2003, p. 25). Both ecological and human systems to evolve to the far from ideal states they are currently in (Coffey
exhibit strongly developed self-organized patterns, meaning that and Coad, 2010). Wilson (2007) describes the impracticality of cur-
linear policies are more likely to produce temporary solutions rent expectations for developing country SWM systems: ‘‘If there is
and many worsening problems in the future (Holling, 2001). Walt- one key lesson that I have learned from 30 years in waste manage-
ner-Toews et al. (2005) hold the view that ecological and social ment, it is that there are no ‘quick fixes’. All developed countries
systems are intertwined, and the separation of these systems is have evolved their current systems in a series of steps; developing
both artificial and arbitrary. The term ‘eco-social systems’ countries can benefit from that experience, but to expect to move
acknowledges these connections. Limits for the possible alterna- from uncontrolled dumping to a ‘modern’ waste management sys-
tive states of such systems are set by the accumulated social, cul- tem in one great leap is just not realistic’’ (Wilson, 2007, p. 205).
tural, ecological, and economic capital, in addition to chance Approaches developed to handle the complexity of specific
innovations (Holling, 2001). SWM systems are certainly eco-social developing country contexts, particularly at the nexus of eco-social
systems, and thus their evolution is shaped by these factors. systems, could contribute substantially to solid waste manage-
Central to a CAS approach is the essential need to include multi- ment research and decision-making in developing country con-
ple perspectives. Kay et al. (1999) consider human values and a texts. Thus, there is a need for new approaches emerging from
diversity of views to be crucial to the process of identifying appro- the interface of SWM, post-normal science, and complex-adaptive
priate methods of investigation necessary to deal with issues in a systems research as the bleak state of SWM systems in many
systemic context. Issues of social reality, which are ‘‘continuously developing regions continues to threaten and degrade the health
socially constructed and reconstructed by individuals and groups’’ of the most vulnerable human populations and the ecosystems
(Checkland, 2000, p. S24), are relevant, as are issues of inclusive- they are a part of. While systems thinking has played a role in tech-
ness, mutual trust in the investigation process, and relative power nically-focused SWM research, predominantly in developed coun-
among stakeholders (Kay et al., 1999). Any action taken must be tries, solid waste researchers and decision-makers will need to
feasible in the context of the local history, relationships, culture, adopt a strongly participatory, contextually grounded complex,
and aspirations of all concerned parties (Checkland, 2000). Cultural adaptive systems perspective if any real progress is to be made
context and historical narratives are strongly influential on how in the SWM practices of the developing world.
public decisions about environment and health are both framed
and managed (Waltner-Toews et al., 2005). Ensuring real stake-
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