Plastic pollution is a key driver for sustainable solid waste management systems

Sophie van den Berg is a Senior Expert at WASTE working on developing our plastic waste expertise.

WASTE adviser, Sophie van den Berg, participated in the recent International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress. Along the way, acquiring better insights into current developments in the waste management sector and shift toward circular economy. We asked Sophie to outline her two main takeaways from the conference and share some insights into developing sector trends. See what she had to say –


1. Plastic pollution is a key driver for sustainable solid waste management systems

I presented a paper about sustainable plastic waste management on banana plantations and how to recycle plastic film used in the banana sector at the ISWA World Congress in 2016. Then, I was one of the few talking about plastic waste. Now, plastic waste pollution is priority topic for many donors, NGOs, goverment officials and solid waste practitioners. This year, many sessions were dedicated to this problem and how to solve it, including various development of tools and databases. Everybody acknowledges the fact that it is time to act. Though I find the recent developments presented very theoretical.

WASTE has a long history of supporting small businesses in low- and middle- income countries, also in plastic recycling. We know the business models in plastic waste management that are financially sustainable because without making profit, these businesses just don’t exist. We are working on a publication called ‘Heroes in Plastic Waste Recycling’ with detailed analyses of business models. This aims to provide valuable insights from successful case studies in some African countries. We know that many types of plastics are difficult to recycle. We still have a long way to go before we achieve ‘circularity’ in the plastics industry. We need bold innovations that challenge existing designs, materials and business models. 


Workers at a zero-waste center in Udaipur, where a self-help group was integrated into plant operations, and workers receive a waged salary as part of the FINILOOP programme. (c) FINISH Society, 2019.


2. Inclusion of informal sector workers in solid waste management must remain a priority 

Workers at informal scrap dealers and waste pickers are often part of the most marginalized group of society. Being inclusive when working in solid waste management is crucial. In the almost 40 years of its existence, WASTE has always recognized this group as a main stakeholder in sustainable solid waste systems and has  stood up to improve the living conditions of waste pickers. We look to find ways how to integrate informal waste systems. Many sessions showed that this issue has become mainstream and has been integrated as part of the activities of many solid waste projects.

When working towards inclusion in solid waste management, there are many stakeholders that you must take into account. Implementation of a policy plan should critically look at households’ ability to pay for waste management services. Often, this means diversifying the types of service and/or developing cross-financing mechanisms to ensure everybody gets access to services.

Gender is another important theme when considering inclusion. This is not only about how household tasks are divided in a family, amongst culture and gender roles (i.e. Do the female family members take out the trash and if so, can she easily gain access to the collection point?) But also about what opportunities women and men have in the sector. In many cases, women outnumber men in informal work, such as waste picking. It is a job that needs little investment, which can be done in your own time. At the same time, it is a job that is unprotected and not without risks, especially when one is working at the waste dump sites.




Since its beginning, ISWA World Congress has been considered as the industry’s leading solid waste management event and the place to meet your global solid waste colleagues. Next year, we hope to meet you at the ISWA 2022 World Congress in Singapore. We are looking forward to learning from more practical experiences on how to tackle the plastic waste pollution challenge.

We plan to present our latest findings under our plastic waste programme Financial Inclusion & Improved Livelhoods Out of Plastics (FINILOOP) and practical training material about plastic recycling processes. In the meantime, you can get in touch with Sophie if you are interested to learn more sooner or partner in this endeavour.