6 Constraints to Improving Waste Management in the Developing World

6 Constraints to Improving Waste Management in the Developing World

street garbageWaste is created differently, just like the various societies that produce it. As a result, finding a single universal waste treatment plan is challenging and often not possible given the range of needs. In the developing world where waste management has little meaning, the notion of what it takes to protect the earth can be drastically different from one society to another. Like their ancestors before them, many people simply dump their garbage next to the street outside of their village and move on with their day. They may start up a rubbish burn that typically does not finish the job and then use a thin layer of earth to cover up the remaining debris and lingering odor. This method is nothing new—it has been around for centuries and has worked pretty well until now.

In traditional societies, everything they used to develop goods was from nature, making the majority of their waste biodegradable. When it was left in a designated area, it would simply return to the earth over time. This has been a tried-and-true waste management strategy for much of the world, but the movement of first world countries into an era of plastic water bottles, tires, electronics, disposable diapers, and batteries has made that simple system unsustainable. So, where does that leave countries that are not up to speed with the rest of the world? Of course, people are trying to improve these situations around the developing world, but the process is hindered by all sort of conditions that will take time, energy, innovation, and money to change. However, the first step to understanding how to fix a problem is to identify the constraints:


In most developing countries, there is minimal support and education available to those who are working at the local level to provide solid waste management. They typically have no technical background or training in relevant subjects such as engineering or management and don’t fully understand what is required of trained personnel. Oftentimes other countries provide solid waste management solutions through foreign assistance that is neither cost effective nor appropriate for the conditions of the area. If this technology is selected without consideration for cost and effectiveness for the recipient, it won’t work. Even if the equipment is excellent, it won’t have any impact on a system that can’t sustain its usage.


vietnamOverall, solid waste management is not a high priority in developing countries, especially in places where the need for food vastly outweighs concerns about what to do with the remains. As a result, limited funds are provided to these parts of the government, and the services suffer greatly as a result, lowering the quality of the environment and the health of the people. At the local level, when taxation comes into play, the system is often inadequately developed and does not support the cost of a highly functioning process. Typically, it would then make sense to collect a service charge from those using the management process. However, the money simply isn’t there, or people are unwilling to pay for something they don’t really understand. In a classic case, a town in a developing country has such a small budget for waste management that almost all of its annual allotment is used up in the first six months, leaving customers disappointed about the failure of the service and a lack of trust for the future.


This challenge relates to the country’s economy as a whole. Obviously, those countries with a stronger economy are able to provide more funds toward waste management and a more sustainable system. However, by definition developing countries do not fall into this category, and their waste systems suffer as a result. On the local level, industries usually have some kind of inexpensive equipment and vehicles available for waste management, so they don’t necessarily need the expensive foreign gear. By using their own type of equipment, they can also provide support for themselves through spare parts. The problem, however, is that there aren’t many people manufacturing solid waste equipment, and therefore much of the equipment is subject to failure without remedy.


There are usually at least a few agencies at the national level that are involved in the waste management process, but they often do not have clear roles in the system, and there is no real agency designed to coordinate these efforts. The lack of collaboration among relevant agencies usually results in ineffective projects. This creates wasted resources and overall unsustainability of many different programs. Legislation on the subject is usually fragmented, incomplete, and unenforced, making the development of such waste programs even more difficult.


garbageWaste management employees in developing countries are generally of low social status, as the notion of handling garbage is often seen as lacking dignity. As a result, the perceptions of the job lead to disrespect for the role and those who do it. Even though these workers provide a valuable service to both the environment and the community, there is little pride in the field. The lack of public awareness and education about the importance of waste management limits the ability of community-based approaches in developing nations.

External Support:

This type of assistance is offered by industrialized countries that can offer all sorts of resources for those in need of waste management systems. Although they mean well, these nations face technical, financial, institutional, economic, and social constraints, too. Oftentimes, these support systems do not understand what is needed in any given society. The equipment, type of education, and technology they offer simply do not meet the needs of the people they are trying to help. Communication can make collaboration difficult, especially about a subject that has various degrees of importance. Waste management by its nature does not readily generate revenue, and developing countries can sometimes see this as a problem.

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