Guest Editorial: A Global WasteCon

Credit: Illustration: iStock/sbayram

For much of the past year, SWANA’s hard working staff and leadership have been promoting a unique WASTECON taking place in Baltimore on September 25–27. What makes it unique? We are co-hosting our big annual conference with the ISWA World Congress, for the first time in nearly 20 years. The combination of this large internationally-oriented waste conference with SWANA’s largest annual event will be the “can’t miss” solid waste event of the year!

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As part of our promotion of WASTECON/ISWA, I have traveled to several solid waste events and environmental conferences in Latin America. I have met solid waste professionals from numerous countries, many of whom have promised me they will be in Baltimore. One of the big takeaways for me is that we all have much to learn from one another concerning how to handle waste and recyclables in an environmentally protective, safe, and economic way—that takes each country’s or region’s culture and needs into account. It simply is not feasible to expect Cuba to have a similar recycling rate as Miami, 150 miles to the north. It isn’t reasonable for rural Brazil to have the same waste infrastructure as the large megacities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. This is not dissimilar to the United States, where Seattle’s recycling ethos differs dramatically from many locations in the middle of the country, or in Europe, where some countries send very little residual waste to landfill, while many Eastern European countries dispose of 50% or more in landfills or dumps.

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In a world with a growing population, increasing urbanization, and rising waste generation rates, we need to educate national, state, provincial, and local policymakers, our customers, the media, and the general population that “waste management” is an essential public service, and one in which both private and public sector investment is essential. The dump collapses in Ethiopia and Sri Lanka earlier this year highlighted one of the huge public safety risks associated with unregulated dumpsites. An estimated 200 people died in these two incidents—which occurred less than seven weeks apart—and serve as a reminder that there truly is “No Time to Waste” when it comes to investing in waste infrastructure. People should not be living on dumpsites; plastic and other trash should not be polluting our waterways and oceans; landfills should not catch on fire, and waste disposal sites should provide renewable energy opportunities.

Here in North America, over the past 40 years, we have (1) closed more than 10,000 open dumps, (2) developed more than 700 disposal facilities that generate renewable energy, and (3) have curbside ­recycling collection available to the majority of Americans and Canadians. Many ­Western European nations have a similar track record. It has not been easy, it has not been without controversy, and it requires both initial and ongoing investments. But it can be done. SWANA members have a unique opportunity to provide solutions to new customers from around the world. By mid-June, we already had registrants from 36 countries, and we expect Baltimore attendees to originate from more than 50 countries on six continents. They need engineering and consulting services, used and new garbage trucks, balers, compactors, recycling systems, landfill gas recovery systems, technology, safety equipment, and much more. I am so proud that #TeamSWANA is bringing the entire global world of waste together in Baltimore. It’s going to be a very different type of WASTECON experience for many SWANA members, and I hope you will welcome our international attendees from both the developed and developing worlds with open arms and big smiles.
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