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Thursday, 09 August 2012 12:35

ISWA's president in an exclusive interview

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Jeff Cooper speaks to D-Waste about the outcome of his work in ISWA and lessons learnt from the past two years of his Presidency.

Jeff Cooper’s most recent public role has been as President of International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) 2010-12, a position he will hold until September 2012. Previously he has been President of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) (2007-2008), Chairman of ISWA’s Scientific and Technical Committee (2000-2008), and he is currently Member of the CIWM’s Scientific and Technical Committee, Waste Strategy and Waste Prevention Groups and a trustee of the CIWM’s Environmental Body. He has also been Chair of numerous NGOs including, SERA (Socialist, Environment and Resources Association) Waste Watch and the London Hazards Centre, as well as of public bodies such as LARAC (Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee).

1. Your ISWA Presidency is going to be completed soon. What has ISWA achieved during the last two years and which major programmes have been implemented?

Global impact

On the global level, key achievements for ISWA during the last two years have included the recognition of the role of waste management in the Climate Change negotiations. This has paved the way both for a more effective approach to addressing the issues of Climate Change and for improved resourcing of waste management organisations so they can make a more significant contribution to solving this crucial problem.

ISWA has also initiated a Task Force on Globalisation and Waste Management following on from its first Task Force on Climate Change and Waste Management, which concluded in 2010. The Task Force on Globalisation will complete its work in 2013 and has already demonstrated the interconnections between the global economic system and the recovery and recycling of materials from waste based sources. Of particular significance has been the work on the informal sector, where ISWA has been examining the potential to integrate the informal sector as a key element in integrated waste management systems for transition and emergent economies. Initial outputs from the Task Force on Globalisation and Waste Management were reported at the Singapore Beacon Conference in July 2012 and will be further reported at the ISWA Congress in Florence in September 2012. Other aspects will be concluded in 2013.

The development of the Key Issue Paper on Waste Prevention, Recycling and Resource Management, the conclusions of which have been discussed with other international organisations such as the OECD and UNEP, has also led to recognition of the role of resource efficiency and also the need to consider the more problematic issue of resource conservation. We also have a Key Issue Paper dealing with Waste Trafficking that has been discussed with the Basle Secretariat and which has resulted in items of equipment that are repairable being allowed to be imported into developing countries, in recognition of the wider social and employment potential through their repair and refurbishment in those countries.

International Partnerships

One of the main mechanisms in achieving these important outcomes globally has been the establishment of strong partnerships with other international organisations. We are now a key player in the global waste partnership headed by UNEP. Of the six waste streams being researched ISWA is responsible for the one on Climate Change and is the only non-UN organisation to be leading one of these programmes.

There are also other organisations we are closely working with, such as UNCRD through the IPLA (International Partnership for Expanding Waste Management Services of Local Authorities). This relationship is particularly strong in South America where the Brazilian

RDN representative is playing a key role in coordinating IPLA activities within that region and this has resulted in enhancing waste management services in several South American cities. Another partnership, with UNHabitat, has led to the training of sixty Iraqi engineers in waste management in the ISWA premises in Vienna and they are already beginning the process of developing waste management services in their home country. The successes achieved so far in building and sustaining international partnerships give us a strong base from which to continue to expand such alliances.

Services and support for Members

The improvement in services and support for ISWA members has included the development of the ISWA Knowledge Base which allows access to ISWA’s growing stock of information – reports, results of projects, articles etc. With the additional funding to which ISWA has access from the City of Vienna we have been able to develop a number of projects which will provide ISWA members with essential information on a wide range of waste management issues; for example, project grants allowed the Hazardous Waste Training Resource Pack to be updated and provided in a more accessible format. All these project results will be available on the ISWA Knowledge Base.

Following two successful meetings in Brussels ISWA has established a European Group to act as a focus for discussion with and influencing European Union (EU) institutions. This exciting new initiative should also allow us to access EU funding for ISWA’s work in the EU area for the future.

There have also been a growing number of Beacon Conferences, for example, in Singapore (2012) , Serbia (2010 and 11), Malmo (2011) building on the first Beacon conference based in Malmo in 1997 and a series of new study tours, for example, addressing Energy from Waste and the Collection and Treatment of Recyclable Wastes, enabling the sharing of best practice.

I am pleased that ISWA’s communication with its members and the wider public has been enhanced over the past two years. We are now using a greater variety of different media and because these are mainly electronic they therefore have an improved environmental impact and have also allowed a greater number of people to become aware of ISWA’s work. Waste Management & Research has been expanded to at least twelve issues per year in response to demand and for the first time there is now a strong link between the Congress Programme and Waste Management & Research through the special issue of WM&R that will be published for the Florence ISWA Congress later this year.

Growing membership

I am proud that over the past two years we have been able to recruit a number of National and Organisation Members – four new National Members and fifteen Organisation Members, an increase of more than ten per cent in the last two years. This is against a background of slow global economic growth and where other organisations have struggled to maintain membership. We have also strengthened ISWA’s links with the Academic Sector and established the first Summer School which will take place at the Technical University of Vienna in September 2012, with the second being planned for the University of Malaya in 2013.

Organisational effectiveness

Underpinning all these successes has been the growing strength of ISWA’s organisational capacity. We have a Board and a Scientific and Technical Committee (STC) with the ambition to further ISWA’s Mission throughout the globe. In addition, ISWA has successfully settled into its new offices in central Vienna and more importantly recruited a full complement of expert staff. Our improved planning for the future has resulted from us now having a General Secretariat that is able to provide an increasing range of services for ISWA members. Our greater capacity to deliver such services is dependent upon our increasingly sound financial base.

2. A recent World Bank Report refers to Waste Management as a challenge comparable to Climate Change. ISWA is dealing with Climate Change and globalisation issues; will you provide some highlights of ISWA’s work on these matters?

It was extremely helpful that the World Bank in its Report on Waste Management, published in March 2012, acknowledged that waste management was a challenge comparable to Climate Change. ISWA has been working on the connections between Climate Change and waste management since 2007 and presented the results of our work in the Climate Change White Paper that was produced just before the COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009. We also attended the COP 16 Meeting in Cancun in 2010. However, we recognised that we needed to develop a more comprehensive strategy for the future and so in early 2011 ISWA employed a political strategist in order to have a greater influence on the pre-COP negotiations for the Durban COP 17 Meeting.

Thanks to these efforts there was a specific reference to ‘waste management and other cross-cutting sectors’ in the final communiqué.  Certainly the World Bank’s recognition of the importance of waste management combined with ISWA’s research and promotion of the advantages of enhancing waste management practices throughout the world should help to ensure that our role in tackling the adverse impacts of GHG emissions might help secure greater funding from international agencies and allow access to improved financial mechanisms after the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in December 2012.

3. E-Waste grows more and more important. At the same time waste trafficking risks for environmental and public health are increasing. How can we navigate between waste trafficking and global recycling markets?

This issue is very complex. There is a marked contrast between the developed world and the developing economies in both access to EEE (electrical and electronic equipment), availability of EEE and all too often even access to electrical power.

In the developed world there are many items of EEE that are discarded even before use, with minimal use, discarded rather than the consumer considering repair, or discarded well before their technical end of life (EoL).  Studies in several countries, including: Sweden, Denmark and the UK show that about 20-30% of discarded EEE delivered to household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) is capable of further extended use.    

While there are many mechanisms in the developed economies for the re-utilisation of items before they are finally discarded, increasingly because other people: relatives, friends and recipients of household items from voluntary organisations themselves already have many of these items or prefer to purchase new equipment  the surplus of re-usable EEE cannot be accommodated within the local economy.

There are items that can be utilised within the local community: items that have market appeal, such as Dyson vacuum cleaners, flat screen televisions and monitors, and dishwashers, for example.  These can be reclaimed from HWRCs and if delivered intact and if the transfer and treatment facilities to which these items are sent are capable of undertaking the sorting, testing and marketing of these items to those consumers that are keen to accept these items then they can have their EoL extended.  Indeed there are now not only those consumers who may  only be able to purchase these second hand products but a new breed of greener consumer able to purchase new items of EEE but choosing instead to purchase second hand but their numbers are limited compared to potential supplies of CRT (cathode ray tube) televisions and monitors, for example.    

Many items therefore, such as a TV with a CRT (cathode ray tube), year old computers and most mobile phones cannot be even given away in most cases.  At the same time these items do have a great demand in many developing countries as these items cost a quarter or less than the equivalent new product.  This therefore provides many poorer consumers with access to consumer products with low cost.

In a broader perspective the use of many items of discarded EEE is of continuing value socially within many developing countries, second-hand computers in schools, for example.  The argument for passing on mobile phones to people in developing countries appears incontrovertible in that the environmental risks of disposal in those countries is minimal provided that the battery remains contained within the handset.

Therefore in developing countries mobile telephones, laptops and associated items are now providing the impetus to development where the conventional electrical grid systems are not yet established.  In Africa half of its one billion population have access now to a mobile phone and India adds 15 million mobile phones every month with over 1 billion subscribers expected to be exceeded in the next few months.  Even in the very poorest countries people can make a living hiring out mobile phones by the minute, people can maintain family contact and farmers and fishermen can obtain information about the best locations to market their produce.

While TVs and other electrical items are pure consumer products nevertheless why should the developed world deny access to cheap but perfectly serviceable second hand products from overseas?

However, we are now increasingly faced with calls from environmental groups to stop the exports of WEEE.  ISWA would certainly support this but the dividing line between the export of re-usable EEE and WEEE is not clear but the intentions of future use and the packaging of these items will often be critical factors for the regulation authorities in deciding whether to prosecute exporters of non re-usable EEE to developing countries. Transboundary movement of EEE on the pretext of recycling can cause serious issues in developing nations since many industry players misuse this facility to export eWaste to be processed illegally in poor countries.

Increasingly one of the complicating factors associated with the export of WEEE or re-usable EEE regarded as WEEE by regulators is that the people managing these exports are nationals from the importing countries where prosecution can easily be evaded by going back home.  Thus increasingly we find that there is an element of fraud associated with the export of WEEE or items purportedly being reusable EEE. Thus these people seeking to export reusable EEE are not concerned whether these items are EEE or WEEE.    

Waste trafficking of WEEE is a continuing concern but we should be distinguishing between WEEE and EEE items capable of extended use in developing countries.  Certainly few would wish to advocate the export of WEEE to developing economies, although some would argue that items of non-hazardous WEEE could be exported because these items could be repaired for further use and the training and employment opportunities are obviously valuable.

Provision of treatment facilities for WEEE is increasingly important in all parts of the World.  However, we need to ensure that the WEEE in developing economies, irrespective of whether this is EEE re-used from the developed world or purchased new locally, is properly treated to recover valuable resources and manage hazardous wastes.  Unfortunately a large number of developing countries have rudimentary WEEE treatment technologies to deal with the high amounts of such wastes. Open processing of WEEE is widely practised to recover metals. The informal recycling sector is very active in developing countries where harmful techniques in de-soldering circuit boards are very common.

Solutions to the WEEE issues in developing countries can only be solved by the transfer of appropriate technologies. Such technologies should incorporate and recognise the role of the dominant informal sector and their linkage with the state-of-art formal WEEE recycling sectors. Financing the WEEE collection schemes in developing countries has always been a challenge. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is widely acknowledged in the developed world as one of the most effective tools to finance WEEE management schemes. Developing countries should, however, design their own EPR schemes based upon their capacity to implement such schemes.

For further detail please see the ISWA Key Issue Paper on Waste Trafficking.

4. You have been a member of ISWA for many years and ISWA’s President for the last two. Will you provide us with lessons learnt from your involvement with the Association and its added value?

My active involvement with ISWA started in 1989 when I became the Vice-Chair of the newly formed ISWA Recycling and Waste Minimisation Working Group, of which I am still a member. I became Chair of the Working Group and then Chair of the STC in 2000-2008.

Over that time ISWA has become a genuine international organisation helped by the decision to establish three Board positions for Regional Development Networks. This has enabled ISWA to more easily promote its outreach work with those National Members based within the three RDNs that ISWA currently has.

In the case of the South East Asia and Oceania RDN two years ago we supported the development of the Training and Promotion (TAP) Centre together with our National Member WMRAS and the Singapore National Environment Agency (NEA). In the recent past and certainly for the future ISWA will benefit from focusing on the South East Asian Region because of its growing influence in the world economy. In this context it is advantageous that the newly appointed editor of Waste Management & Research, Professor Agamuthu, is based in Malaya.

The main personal lesson from my involvement with ISWA over the past 23 years is that it has provided me with the opportunity to promote the advantages of enhanced waste management practices world-wide. It has also enabled me to improve my knowledge and experience of waste management in a wide variety of different settings. ISWA as an NGO can provide independent guidance on waste management strategies which National and Regional Governments can adopt in order to improve their waste management practices. As we have experienced in several countries where ISWA has participated in training programmes substantial improvements in public health have followed.

I take pride in the fact that many of the products generated by the voluntary efforts of so many ISWA working group members have been subsequently endorsed and used by international agencies. Our work on the Climate Change and Waste Management White Paper formed the basis of UNEP’s 2012 publication on the same issue. The original Hazardous Waste Training Resource Pack was translated into Spanish and Mandarin by UNEP, for example, and the ISWA Guidelines on Landfill were adopted by the World Bank for their funding of landfill projects in developing countries.

I have learnt that effective waste management is critical to the solution of some of the biggest challenges facing the world in the twenty first century and that committed organisations like ISWA can really make a difference through their value driven approach, their expertise and their persistence. ISWA can be proud that through our efforts the health and environment of many parts of the world have been significantly improved.

Read 5548 times Last modified on Wednesday, 19 September 2012 16:14
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