Paper on Socio-Economic Factors and Waste Management

Socio-Economic Development Drives Solid Waste Management Performance in Cities: A Global Analysis Using Machine Learning

Mismanaged municipal solid waste (MSW), the main source of plastic pollution and a major contributor to climate change, poses public health and environmental problems in cities in the Global South. This study analyses the first consistent and quality-assured dataset available for globally distributed cities, with a comprehensive set of waste management performance indicators (Wasteaware Cities Benchmark Indicators – WABI). Machine learning (multivariate random forest) and univariate non-linear regression are used to identify best-fit converging models for a wide range of explanatory socio-economic variables. These proxies describe generic levels of progress in a variety of ways, such as Gross Domestic Product – Purchasing Power per capita, Social Progress Index (SPI) and Corruption Perceptions Index. In particular, the research tests and quantitatively confirms a long-standing but untested hypothesis: that variability in city performance on MSW can be explained by socio-economic development indices. The findings provide a baseline for measuring progress as cities report on MSW performance for the Sustainable Development Goal indicator SDG11.6.1: median rates of controlled recovery and disposal are approximately 45% for cities in low-income countries, 75% in lower-middle-income countries, and 100% in both upper-middle and high-income countries. Looking beyond the SDG metric to the quality of MSW-related services, improvements in service quality often lag behind improvements in service coverage. Overall, the findings suggest that progress has already been made in collection coverage and controlled recovery and disposal in low- and middle-income cities. However, if cities aspire to perform better in MSW management than would be expected by the average socioeconomic development of their country, they should find ways to overcome systemic failures associated with that socioeconomic level. Most alarmingly, ‘business as usual’ would result in a significant increase in their waste generation per capita, unless new policies are found to promote decoupling.

The full paper is available here.

Waste Flow Diagram