Are municipal waste utilities becoming sustainable? A framework to assess and communicate progress

Abstract

A framework of indicators to assess the progress towards sustainability of municipal waste management utilities is developed. Its purpose is to fulfil the need for assessing the performance of municipal waste (MW) management in a simple but comprehensive way—unlike indicators based on individual aspects such as recycling—and including aspects not well considered before, such as waste prevention. The framework is composed of a set of six single indicators, concerning the three dimensions of sustainability: reduction of effectively landfilled MW and reduction of MW generation (environmental component), balance between expenses and revenues and reduction of costs (economic component), accessibility to separate collection and number of complaints (social component). Each indicator consists of an evaluation of the current status of the variable in contrast to a previous situation, with a positive value in case of improvement or negative in case of decline. Then, the values of the individual indicators are combined to obtain a global result. This approach focuses on dynamic progress towards sustainability, complementing the common static indicators. Contrarily to the existing performance indicator schemes, the proposed framework aims at measuring the progress and not the absolute or relative achievement of a waste management utility. The framework was tested on two Portuguese municipalities, proving to be a straightforward application and reliable in guiding stakeholders. Results for the case study showed good performance on economic sustainability, while environmental and social performance were lower due to a lack of strategies for waste prevention and low source separation, affected by poor accessibility to separate collection.

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Funding

This study was financially supported by LIFE+, the financial instrument of the EU for the environment, for funding the LIFE PAYT project [LIFE 15/ENV/PT/000609]. C. Dias-Ferreira was also financially supported by FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia) through POCH (Programa Operacional Capital Humano) within ESF (European Social Fund) and national funds from MCTES [SFRH/BPD/100717/2014].

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Correspondence to Álvaro Fernández-Braña.

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Fernández-Braña, Á., Sousa, V. & Dias-Ferreira, C. Are municipal waste utilities becoming sustainable? A framework to assess and communicate progress. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 35305–35316 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-05102-4

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Keywords

  • Performance indicators
  • Progress measurement
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Waste management
  • Municipal waste utilities