Fundamental to building an advanced waste management sector is a clear, reliable environment policy, which is not based on the electoral cycle and which provides the stakeholders in the waste management sector with long-term direction. This is the basis on which all those involved collaborate in developing a strategy for building the waste management sector.
The first step is to create a framework. This consists mainly of creating a legal basis; establishing state institutions to regulate and implement it; setting up well-resourced entities in charge of waste management; planning, implementing and financing the waste management infrastructure; and introducing socially acceptable ways of covering the costs.
Primary and secondary legislation forms the central pillar of the development of an advanced waste management sector. The legal basis, in the form of ordinances, directives, regulatory frameworks and guidelines, should be created by the country’s highest legislative body. There may be different requirements for each regulatory area (e.g. domestic, trade or hazardous waste, mixed building waste, recyclable materials). In all cases it must be stipulated who has what responsibility for waste management, with particular emphasis on the obligations of the waste producer and those involved in the management process. The responsibilities and powers must be clearly defined.
In the process of building an advanced waste management sector primary and secondary legislation must be adapted to the developing framework with caution yet guided by targets. This creates incentives for private, social and municipal stakeholders.
Legal arrangements will only have their intended effect if compliance is monitored and enforced. The establishment of well-resourced technical, approval and supervisory institutions is a key task in the implementation of sustainable systems, including in waste management. Without adequate institutional capacities and powers enshrined in law, all efforts come to nothing and merely aid lobbying, corruption and mismanagement.
Enforcement of the law is also very important with a view to private sector involvement. Companies cannot operate successfully in the market if competitors enjoy a cost advantage because they do not comply with standards. This applies equally to waste management enterprises and to waste producers. A level playing field must be created and maintained.
An advanced waste management sector calls for cost-optimal solutions and capable, well-resourced entities in charge of disposal. As larger facilities deliver economies of scale, catchment areas should be made large enough and organisational structures developed to match.
In many cases direct responsibility for waste management lies with local authorities. Small and medium-sized authorities are often unable to take on the responsibility of building and running waste disposal facilities, so ways of organising the central disposal facilities must be found which meet the needs of smaller authorities, for example by forming associations. Other solutions, such as using private-sector companies or a public-private partnership, can be one route to establishing efficient waste management structures. In small countries national entities can also provide a practical solution.
The central facilities require the greatest investment when a waste management system is set up. For that reason the catchment area of the main treatment facilities, population density and the existing administrative structures should be taken into account at the time of construction.
The effect of transport distance and transportation costs on the economic viability of a waste management system is often overestimated. If there is an adequate road network it is more cost-effective to haul waste over longer distances than to build high-tech disposal facilities on a small scale.