Using toxic waste to reduce poverty and save lives

By agency reporter
August 18, 2016

As Olympic athletes encounter untreated sewage dumped into Rio de Janeiro’s watercourses, a new report from the Christian charity Tearfund and the Institute of Development Studies, finds that the mountains of waste that pollute our environment and cause disease could instead be used to reduce poverty and save lives.
 
According to the World Health Organisation, each year approximately nine million people die of diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants, 20 times more than die from malaria.
 
Joanne Green, Tearfund’s Senior Policy Advisor said, "We are creating mountains of waste and it’s killing us and the planet. In many cases these pollutants can instead be used to reduce poverty through creating jobs and boosting the economy, by adopting a circular economy approach. Take organic waste – a major source of greenhouse gas emissions when sent to the tip, and of disease when dumped into rivers or the sea – but a profitable source of renewable energy and fertiliser if used correctly. Whilst in other industries, repair and remanufacturing can reduce air and water pollution and create jobs at the same time."
 
A ‘circular economy’ is a term which refers to an economic system that keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value, by re-using and regenerating materials at the end of each item's life-cycle.
 
In Brazil, for example, Tearfund partner Diaconia are using a circular economy model to help farmers manage their organic waste.  Simple biodigestors are installed to convert the waste into renewable energy and fertiliser, improving farmers’ livelihoods and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. 
 
"In our current linear economy, we make a product, we use it and when it breaks or there’s a newer model available, we discard it” ,co Green continued. "This means that the materials used to make it  are lost to landfill, and products are made from new materials; with a lot more greenhouse gases and other pollutants released in the process."
 
The circular economy approach has taken off in business circles and with companies like retail company H&M and Rolls Royce, because it reduces costs. The report, Virtuous Circle: How the circular economy can create jobs and save lives in low and middle-income countries, suggests that if implemented in a development context, it could also make a big difference to those in poverty. Following a western/industrialised country model, the more developing countries grow, the more waste they produce and the more resources they use; creating a huge environmental and health burden for people in poverty.  By using resources efficiently and eliminating waste, the circular economy can provide a triple win: reducing ill health and death, creating jobs and improving the natural environment.
 
In Brazil for example, the government can work with cooperatives of waste pickers by employing them to collect waste or by providing them with collected waste to sort. The result is often increased recycling rates as well as improved incomes and working conditions. The Recyclers Association Jaraguaense Valley Itapocu (ARJVI) was started in 2012 by a small group of waste-pickers, to help improve their working conditions. The association now enables about 100 people – or 20 families – to earn an average monthly income of $1,300.
 
The report calls on governments and governing bodies to do more to support a transition to the circular economy in developing countries, by setting tougher and safer design standards, developing finance opportunities, working with multinational businesses and investing in more research.
 
Green concluded, ‘The longer we postpone the shift to a sustainable global economy, the worse it will be for the people living in poverty around the world. The evidence is clear. If we don’t want to undo the development of the past we need to transition to an economy that is good for people and the planet.’
 

*The report Virtuous Circle: How the circular economy can create jobs and save lives in developing countries can be downloaded here.

* Tearfund http://www.tearfund.org/

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