Addressing waste challenges on the Asian continent

Written by: RWW | Published:

Waste management poses challenges for many governments, especially for developing countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Eugene Tay, director of Green Future Solutions, looks at the varying waste management procedures across Asia.

The World Bank estimates that world cities currently generate about 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year, and 2.2 billion tonnes a year are expected by 2025. The more developed countries in Asia such as Singapore and South Korea have comprehensive waste management regulations and policies in place. Being a small city-state, the Singapore government is acutely aware of increasing challenges in managing waste and finding land for the construction of waste facilities. Therefore it has implemented sound waste collection and disposal policies, and has promoted recycling over the years.

In Singapore, waste collection is licensed and managed by the National Environment Agency. For public waste collection, licensed collectors are responsible for the collection of waste from residential and trade premises, and are also required to provide recycling services. For commercial and industrial premises, the waste is collected separately by licensed general waste collectors.

The government has decided that waste-to-energy incineration is the best way to manage waste as it reduces the volume of waste by 90%. Only incinerable waste is sent to the waste-to-energy plants, while non-incinerable waste and incineration ash are sent to an offshore landfill. 

The plants and sanitary landfill have strict pollution control measures. Waste that is not disposed is sent for recycling. Singapore has implemented the National Recycling Programme since 2001, where recycling bags or bins are given to residents for their recyclables.

South Korea

Similarly in South Korea, the Ministry of Environment has implemented sound waste management regulations and policies, based on the Wastes Control Act. In 1995, the government introduced the volume based waste fee system by applying the ‘producer pays’ principle, where the person who discharges waste has to pay the disposal cost according to the quantity of waste. Under the system, residents have to purchase plastic garbage bags, where the costs involved in collecting, transporting and disposing of waste are factored into the price of the bags. 

In addition, the government introduced the extended producer responsibility system in 2000, which imposes a quota for the recycling of waste from products or packaging materials on the manufacturer. To manage its waste effectively, South Korea has placed an emphasis on waste ownership, where citizens pay by the amount of waste generated and businesses are responsible for recycling products and materials.

Vietnam and Indonesia

On the other hand, the less developed countries in Asia such as Vietnam and Indonesia are still facing problems in proper waste management. 

In Vietnam, there is a legal framework for waste management, but the country still faces institutional challenges for waste management from the national to the provincial levels. Waste collection in cities is improving, but is limited in rural and poor areas. 

The common method of waste disposal is through poorly operated landfills and open dumps, with only a few sanitary landfills in the country. Open burning is also a common practice in some cities. Recycling is usually done by the informal private sector such as waste pickers and scavengers. In the case of Indonesia, there are also laws on waste management, but these are currently not well implemented and enforced at the local government levels. The municipalities in Indonesia usually carry out waste collection in their respective areas, whereas big cities usually authorise the private sector to carry out waste collection activities.

Most of the municipal waste is disposed of at open dumpsites and non-sanitary landfills. Waste pickers usually scavenge recyclables from these sites. Composting is partly being done at the household and community level, where some projects are funded by local populations and donors.

More efforts on waste management are required in Vietnam and Indonesia, especially addressing ineffective policies and coordination among various agencies; the lack of law enforcement; insufficient collection coverage, skilled manpower and proper equipment; and low budget allocations. In addition, establishing financing options for waste management operators, and increasing awareness and capacity building are also necessary.

Holistic national waste strategies

Singapore and South Korea have shown that sound national waste management strategies and policies are important and can be achieved. 

A recent publication by the United Nations Environment Programme, Guidelines for National Waste Management Strategies, aims to help governments in developing countries create and implement a national strategy. 

National governments in Asia can make use of this publication to guide them when developing and implementing waste management regulations and policies. 

Policies can be better aligned, together with resources, skills and knowledge channelled, to reflect this national priority.

When developing a waste management national strategy, it is necessary for the country to start by identifying who will take the lead and gathering essential information. 

Fundamentals need to be identified including scope, goal and supporting targets, timeline, national benefits, financing and resources required, and linkages to other national policies. It is also necessary to engage stakeholders, both inside and outside the government.

Next, the country should undertake a situation and gap analysis to review the existing policies and priorities, the current state of waste management and technical infrastructure, the legal and regulatory settings, and the available capacities. 

Urgent and important waste streams and issues should also be identified.

With the earlier analyses, the country can evaluate the waste prevention and recycling options and policy instruments, and establish targets, indicators and action plans. 

After political endorsement and public consultation, the national strategy is ready for launch and adoption. 

During the implementation of the national strategy, it is important for the country to assign responsibilities and tasks, and establish a compliance system and undertake ongoing monitoring. Progress against the set goal and targets must be assessed, and the country can adjust and update the strategy as required.

In some Asian cities, expenditures on municipal waste can reach 40% of the municipality’s operating budget. 

This is a huge strain on the country which could be reduced through the development of a proper and holistic national waste management strategy. 

WasteMET Asia 2014 will be addressing these and other issues on 2-4 June 2014 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. For more information, visit

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