09 Oct 2018 Press release Chemicals & waste

A third of urban waste ends up in open dumpsites or environment in Latin America and the Caribbean

  • UN Environment urges countries to progressively close open dumps due to their harmful effects on human health and environment.
  • The study predicts an increase in waste generation in the region of at least 25% by 2050 and calls on efforts to consider waste management a top political priority.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean recovers only 10% of all waste.

Buenos Aires, October 9, 2018 – A third of all waste generated in cities of Latin America and the Caribbean ends up in open dumps or in the environment, polluting soil, water and air, and threatening the health of the population, according to a UN Environment report launched today.

145,000 tons are inadequately disposed every day in the region, equivalent to the waste generated by 27% of the regional population or 170 million people, according to the Waste Management Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean, launched during the XXI Forum of Ministers of Environment of the region, taking place in Buenos Aires, 9-12 October.

UN Environment urges countries to progressively close dumpsites, which expose the surrounding communities and those who work collecting materials to severe health risks. The report stresses that these dumpsites generate greenhouse gases that can inflict serious damage to tourism, agriculture and biodiversity.

Although the region has experienced a quantitative and qualitative improvement in the waste collection coverage – services which already cover more than 90% of the population – over 35,000 tons per day remain uncollected, which affects more than 40 million people, especially in impoverished areas and rural communities.

The region also faces challenges in the transition towards a circular economy: only 10% of waste is reused through recycling or other recovery techniques.

"The Latin American and Caribbean countries should consider waste management a top political priority as a key step to strengthen climate action and protect the health of its inhabitants," said the UN Environment Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Leo Heileman.

Current waste generation in the region will increase at least 25% by 2050. It is expected that more than 671,000 tons/day of urban waste will be generated in 2050, compared to the 541,000 tons/day produced in 2014. The sustained increase is attributed to population growth, urban and economic expansion, and production and consumption patterns inherited from a linear economy system based on the "throwaway" scheme.

"A strong sustainable development agenda includes adequate waste management. The environmental, social and economic benefits that come with these efforts are substantial and range from reducing greenhouse gases and saving commodities, to improving countries' energy matrix, creating jobs and increasing investments”, Heileman added.

Hazardous and special waste, such as electronic devices, hospital waste or those associated with construction, are a source of pollution that needs special and urgent attention in the region. An undetermined amount of these materials is inadequately handled. Frequently, this kind of waste is not even well inventoried and characterized.

Opportunities for transition

The publication highlights areas of opportunity for the region, such as the special management of organic waste or the potential of the circular economy principles.

Organic waste represents on average 50% of all waste produced in the region, but this is the least managed. The lack of specific treatment causes an unjustified generation of greenhouse gases - such as methane - and leachates, and degrades the quality of other recyclable materials found among the garbage.

It is critical for countries to develop laws and policies that establish a common framework, promote public and private investments, education and public participation, and include management indicators.

The publication also describes successful experiences and lessons learned. It highlights, among others, a program in Mexico that promotes cell phone parts recycling; an innovative collection system in the municipality of Alvarado, Costa Rica; a plastic bag ban in Antigua and Barbuda, and the exchange of recyclable waste for food in the Brazilian municipality of Curitiba, a program with more than two decades.


Download the summary here.

Download the full report here.

About UN Environment

UN Environment is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, the civil society and with other UN entities and international organizations across the world. 

For media inquiries, please contact:

María Amparo Lasso, Head of Communication for Latin America and the Caribbean, UN Environment. [email protected]