Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


James R Mihelcic


Sustainable management of solid waste is a global concern, as exemplified by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that 191 member states support. The seventh MDG indirectly advocates for municipal solid waste management (MSWM) by aiming to ensure environmental sustainability into countries’ policies and programs and reverse negative environmental impact. Proper MSWM will likely result in relieving poverty, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and preventing disease, which are MDG goals one, four, five, and six, respectively (UNMDG, 2005).

Solid waste production is increasing worldwide as the global society strives to obtain a decent quality of life. Several means exist in which the amount of solid waste going to a landfill can be reduced, such as incineration with energy production, composting of organic wastes, and material recovery through recycling, which are all considered sustainable methods by which to manage MSW. In the developing world, composting is already a widely-accepted method to reduce waste fated for the landfill, and incineration for energy recovery can be a costly capital investment for most communities. Therefore, this research focuses on recycling as a solution to the municipal solid waste production problem while considering the three dimensions of sustainability environment, society, and economy.

First, twenty-three developing country case studies were quantitatively and qualitatively examined for aspects of municipal solid waste management. The municipal solid waste (MSW) generation and recovery rates, as well as the composition were compiled and assessed. The average MSW generation rate was 0.77 kg/person/day, with recovery rates varying from 5 – 40%. The waste streams of nineteen of these case studies consisted of 0 – 70% recyclable material and 17 – 80% organic material.

All twenty-three case studies were analyzed qualitatively by identifying any barriers or incentives to recycling, which justified the creation of twelve factors influencing sustainable municipal solid waste management (MSWM) in developing countries. The presence of regulations, enforcement of laws, and use of incentive schemes constitutes the first factor, Government Policy. Cost of MSWM operations, the budget allocated to MSWM by local to national governments, as well as the stability and reliability of funds comprise the Government Finances factor influencing recycling in the third world.

Many case studies indicated that understanding features of a waste stream such as the generation and recovery rates and composition is the first measure in determining proper management solutions, which forms the third factor Waste Characterization. The presence and efficiency of waste collection and segregation by scavengers, municipalities, or private contractors was commonly addressed by the case studies, which justified Waste Collection and Segregation as the fourth factor.

Having knowledge of MSWM and an understanding of the linkages between human behavior, waste handling, and health/sanitation/environment comprise the Household Education factor. Individuals’ income influencing waste handling behavior (e.g., reuse, recycling, and illegal dumping), presence of waste collection/disposal fees, and willingness to pay by residents were seen as one of the biggest incentives to recycling, which justified them being combined into the Household Economics factor.

The MSWM Administration factor was formed following several references to the presence and effectiveness of private and/or public management of waste through collection, recovery, and disposal influencing recycling activity. Although the MSWM Personnel Education factor was only recognized by six of the twenty-two case studies, the lack of trained laborers and skilled professionals in MSWM positions was a barrier to sustainable MSWM in every case but one. The presence and effectiveness of a comprehensive, integrative, long-term MSWM strategy was highly encouraged by every case study that addressed the tenth factor, MSWM Plan.

Although seemingly a subset of private MSWM administration, the existence and profitability of market systems relying on recycled-material throughput, involvement of small businesses, middlemen, and large industries/exporters is deserving of the factor Local Recycled-Material Market. Availability and effective use of technology and/or human workforce and the safety considerations of each were recurrent barriers and incentives to recycling to warrant the Technological and Human Resources factor. The Land Availability factor takes into consideration land attributes such as terrain, ownership, and development which can often times dictate MSWM.

Understanding the relationships among the twelve factors influencing recycling in developing countries, made apparent the collaborative nature required of sustainable MSWM. Factors requiring the greatest collaborative inputs include waste collection and segregation, MSWM plan, and local recycled-material market. Aligning each factor to the societal, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainability revealed the motives behind the institutions contributing to each factor. A correlation between stakeholder involvement and sustainability existed, as supported by the fact that the only three factors driven by all three dimensions of sustainability were the same three that required the greatest collaboration with other factors.

With increasing urbanization, advocating for improved health for all through the MDG, and changing consumption patterns resulting in increasing and more complex waste streams, the utilization of the collaboration web offered by this research is ever needed in the developing world. Through its use, the institutions associated with each of the twelve factors can achieve a better understanding of the collaboration necessary and beneficial for more sustainable MSWM.