How waste management systems can be transformed into circular economy accelerators

Management of solid waste is a daunting challenge globally but increasingly offers an opportunity to advance the circular economy agenda. With the aim of strengthening decision making and institutional quality of the integrated management of urban solid waste, the Second International Congress on Integral Management of Urban Solid Waste (GIRSU) was organized on 12-14 June 2019 in Argentina.

Contributions of PAGE to the event helped to place the inclusive green economy thinking in the center of the discussions and to make a case for seizing opportunities for green jobs. The National PAGE Coordinator of Argentina, Mr. Joaquín Etorena, while addressing the panel on Strengthening of the Integrated Solid Waste Management sector, Opportunities and challenges of a just transition towards a Green Economy in Argentina” shared insights from PAGE work. Discussions at the event contributed to develop a joint vision on how the solid waste management system can be transformed into a circular economy without posing a risk to the jobs. 

The session on just transition towards a Green Economy highlighted that there is a high degree of informality in the recycling sector. Participants highlighted that transition to an integrated system of the circular economy may imply profound changes that will bring social consequences, such as the risk of losing some jobs. While acknowledging this risk, PAGE shared ideas on how the transition could bring the possibility of creating new opportunities and improving employment conditions while addressing sustainability and social inequality challenges. Participants underlined the importance of improved quality of education and development of new professional skills to overcome challenges of low productivity, lack of opportunities and youth unemployment. 

Throughout the discussion, social dialogue was identified as a key element for a just and fast transition towards sustainable development. In the context of solid urban waste, participants agreed that i) new legislation needs to be discussed in multistakeholder for a, ii) the vision for transition must pay special attention to generating new opportunities for those who are engaged in recycling of materials, and iii) role of cooperative economic schemes should be duly recognized for its contribution to decent job-creation in green sectors. Other factors and challenges discussed included: i) technological changes, ii) the need to reskill the labour force, iii) need for stimulus to accelerate innovation, iv) urgency of investment in necessary infrastructure, and v) development of value chains associated with the emergence of new sectors.  

Participants at the conference concluded that developing green economies has a positive net effect on employment in terms of quantity and quality. They highlighted that a paradigm shift from a linear economy model to a circular model is necessary and has the enormous potential to generate green jobs.