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  • Aasavari Joshi

How Waste Statistics Direct Nations towards a Circular Economy

Every home, business, and institution generates waste. A fresh viewpoint on describing and quantifying the waste products of our economies can be gained from the Conference of European Statisticians Framework on Waste Statistics published by UNECE. It offers a fresh viewpoint on how to describe and quantify waste. Understanding the general linkages between the production and consumption of materials, as well as the generation of waste and other undesired residuals, is possible by using material flow accounts. The kind and weight of natural resources and items that are extracted, supplied, or used in relation to production and consumption are described by material flow accounts. The accounts also include data on residuals from economic activity volumes, such as garbage and air pollutants. The waste accounts provide detailed information on the origins and processing of the various forms of garbage.

Waste products can endanger both the environment and human health if not properly managed. Managing our waste through recycling and other responsible forms of disposal becomes increasingly urgent as consumption continually increases. For instance, household waste may be thrown onto the street if municipal waste collection is lacking. At the same time, effective waste management generates work opportunities and secondary raw materials that can be used in the manufacturing of new products.

In Europe, official garbage data has been generated for more than 40 years. They were initially created as a tool to monitor and manage risks to the environment and human health, and they have traditionally concentrated on categories including hazardous wastes and municipal, industrial, and household trash. However, as nations work towards the transition to a circular economy, where the entire conceptualisation of waste is rethought, information needs have evolved in recent years to involve an understanding and maximisation of the economic value of waste. The line between "waste" and "product" becomes blurred as we work toward a society where natural resources are utilised responsibly in closed loops.

These developments have increased the need for data on types of waste not previously measured, such as electronic, culinary, and textile waste. Data is further required on other types of waste that are challenging to measure, such as those handled unlawfully and by workers in the informal sector. A dedicated UNECE Task Force established by the Conference of European Statisticians created the Waste Statistics Framework. The Framework was approved in 2021 by the national statistical offices of more than 60 member countries from the Conference, as well as significant international organisations.

The new framework is the outcome of the task force's labour, for more than four years, guided at various times by specialists from the Netherlands, the United Nations University, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Canada. To create this new framework, experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Germany, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, as well as representatives of several international organisations, academic institutions, and NGOs contributed a vast array of experience.

Published waste accounts provide a breakdown of the types of garbage and waste treatment methods used to demonstrate how much waste is produced in households and other sectors. As a result, it is possible, to determine how much waste is recycled. Waste imports and exports are also included. The environmental-economic accounts include the waste and material flow accounts. They are essential for analysing the circular economy's numerous facets and determining whether there is a shift towards greater resource efficiency, where industries produce more value added and less waste from the materials they utilize.

The absence of universal waste definitions and characteristics is one of the key issues that the Task Force established by the Conference of European Statisticians attempts to address. It may appear that words like "waste," "material," "discard," "dispose," "recycle," and "collect" are simple to understand. However, it is difficult to compare or combine data that pertain to distinct terms. Conceptual and operational definitions of such crucial categories frequently vary between and even within nations as well as international organisations. The new framework looks at the variety of definitions now in use by various actors and suggests a set of concepts that can be utilised by everyone to create common understanding. Future research will need to examine queries about the economic value of garbage and spending on waste management in the broader context of the transition to a circular economy.


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