UNEP report: Women left out, exploited in waste sector

A woman shovels garbage off a path in Nyalenda estate in Kisumu county in 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Despite women being always positive towards receiving messages concerning waste reduction and recycling, they have been excluded in waste management

This emerged during the launch of a report at the sixth United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA-6) in Nairobi. 

The Global Waste Management Outlook 2024, (GWMO 2024) which was launched recently further recognised the role of women in domestic cleaning and looking for alternative waste disposal sites. 

Speaking during the launch, Zoë Lenkiewicz, lead author of the report said that despite women being responsible for municipal waste generation, they are still being excluded in decision-making on waste management. 

“The second barrier that we observed is that women and the informal sector are often excluded from decision-making rooms. Women are genuinely most responsible for municipal waste generation at the household level because they’re responsible for the chopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and ultimately, the domestic waste management. So women are also very, very receptive to waste prevention measures,” said Lenkiewicz. 

Traditional gender stereotypes were attributed as the root cause of the discrimination against women in the entire waste management value chain. 

On employment, the report revealed that more women are found in lower job hierarchies like street sweeping, waste picking, sorting, and selling lower-value recyclables while their male counterparts possess greater roles. 

Lenkiewicz also revealed in the report that residents and youth are considered nonexperts in the planning and designing phase of waste management hence leading to long-term effects that might add to the cost of waste management. 

According to the report, municipal solid waste generation is predicted to grow from 2.3 billion tonnes in 2023 to 3.8 billion tonnes by 2050.  

In 2020, the global direct cost of waste management was estimated at USD 252 billion.  

However, when factoring in the hidden costs of pollution and climate change from poor waste disposal practices, the cost rises to USD 361 billion.  

“Waste generation is intrinsically tied to GDP, and many fast-growing economies are struggling under the burden of rapid waste growth. By identifying actionable steps to a more resourceful future and emphasizing the pivotal role of decision-makers in the public and private sectors to move towards zero waste, this Global Waste Management Outlook can support governments seeking to prevent missed opportunities to create more sustainable societies and to secure a livable planet for future generations,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive

The report further shows that getting waste under control by taking waste prevention and management measures could limit net annual costs by 2050 to USD 270.2 billion. 

“The GWMO 2024 is a guide and call for action to catalyse collective efforts to support bold and transformative solutions, revert the adverse impacts of current waste management practices, and provide clear benefits to every individual living on this planet.,” said Carlos Silva Filho, International Solid Waste Association’s President.  

Lenkiewicz emphasised that the finding of the report implies that the world urgently needs to shift to a zero-waste approach while improving waste management to prevent significant pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and negative impacts on human health. 

The report titled ‘Beyond an Age of Waste: Turning Rubbish into a Resource’ provides a substantial update on global waste generation and the cost of waste and its management since 2018.