International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress 2019: What did you miss?

Last week, Bilbao was the scene of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) conference with more than 1,000 participants from 75 countries. Bilbao, Spain, seemed to be the perfect location   for this conference, with collection bins of recyclables on almost every street corner as well as an enormous workforce in garbage collection and street cleaning. On every corner we saw a street cleaning vehicle, a waste bin emptier or a garbage truck, emptying the container bins with recyclables.

In case you haven’t had the chance to visit ISWA below, WASTE Adviser, Sophie van den Berg, shares with you the three most important takeaways from the conference:

1. Everybody is trying to answer the question: How to solve the plastic waste pollution problem?

If you haven’t noticed: there is a continuous spotlight on usage of plastics and plastic pollution. In Bilbao, marine litter was one of the key topics of debate. Many organizations are trying to tackle ocean plastic pollution and therefore quite a few sessions were designated to this important issue.

Two tools were launched to quantify the amount of plastic waste flowing into the oceans: the plastic pollution calculator (PPC) and the waste flow diagram (WFD) developed by the ISWA task force on marine litter (see: Measuring data is vital when implementing plastic waste management projects. No exact data is available on amount of plastic waste generated and the different types of plastic leaking into the ocean. Vital data is needed to base interventions on.

A new global alliance was launched that is committed to help end plastic waste in the environment.  The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is an alliance of global companies from the plastics and consumer goods value chain and has committed over USD$1.0 billion over the next five years. The Alliance will develop and bring to scale, solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste, meanwhile promoting solutions for used plastics by helping to enable a circular economy (see:

The topics of ocean plastic, marine litter and plastic pollution are getting persistent attention worldwide and for good reason—it is truly a global crisis with far-reaching impact on human and environmental health. Many organizations are using this attention to build new programmes, projects and funds around these. Despite my gratitude for this new plastic waste management movement, after working in the field for more than 25 years, I can’t help but wonder: Who is coordinating all these initiatives tackling ocean plastic pollution? And is not everybody doing the same and reinventing the wheel?

I suggest establishing a global coordination platform to exchange experiences and divide the activities.

2. The impact of digitization on solid waste management

How will digitization transform the waste management sector and how can we best make use of it? These were key points of interest for many. Different software is being introduced, evidenced from everything from intelligent bins (containers telling us when they need to be emptied) to apps with the aim to increase awareness of the general public for waste segregation at home. Also, in low- and middle-income countries data tracking by using mobile phones is becoming more and more important. These analytics will provide us with in depth knowledge of waste streams and flows of recyclables. Important data to base specific measurements and legislation on.

3. The overall message: We must act now!

Showing rivers full of plastics or waste dumps with the poor state of the communities living amongst it, is confronting and necessary. However, these images must be accompanied by a call-for-action. Participants were confronted directly, being asked: What are you doing to prevent plastic waste entering rivers and oceans? What are you doing to prevent climate change?

Theorizing and pontificating must be met with solutions and innovations: as practitioners, we must lead the charge to encourage our contemporaries to not only talk about the problem but really implement projects and solutions that have dynamic impact. WASTE has been working on (plastic) waste management for more than 35 years and we started our first FINILOOP project in India. FINILOOP stands for Financial Inclusion & Improved Livelihoods Out of Plastic—we believe that FINILOOP can provide a solution as FINILOOP partners with cities to reduce, redesign and improve plastic waste management, see more at:


Next year, the ISWA conference will be held in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. It will be very interesting to see the progress on implemented projects that will be presented, with major impact on plastic pollution and climate. We will definitely be there and keep you in the loop!

Find out more and get in touch with Sophie here.






Column written by: WASTE Adviser (pictured), Sophie van den Berg