Nuno Lopes from RSK-IWS contributed to RSK’s Cities of Tomorrow series about how the lack of planning will need to be addressed if cities are to meet their goals.

The Cities of Tomorrow series explores the sustainable solutions available to create resilient and future-proof urban centres. It focuses chiefly on RSK companies and how they are responding.

About 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas; this will increase to about 68% by 2050, according to a report by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Its report details how “urbanisation combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, with close to 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa, according to a new United Nations data set launched today”. That is a staggering figure. And Nuno references the immense logistical challenges in managing the mammoth quantities of waste projected to be produced. Therefore, he notes, “sustainable waste management is a fundamental issue that we face in future city environments. A truly sustainable system needs to take into consideration environmental, social and economic challenges; it must balance increasing waste production with environmental health considerations while keeping up with rapid urbanisation.”

Decaying equipment and old-fashioned mindset

In the UK, there are significant obstacles in the way, namely, decision-makers have chosen to maintain a low-investment system, but this comes with high operating costs, about 50% of a municipal budget. The equipment is also a serious obstruction. According to the article, 95% of waste collection is done with plastic containers created in the 1960s. Cities must obtain modern equipment that is prepared for the challenges of the future. This could include equipment with a large storage capacity that fits aesthetically into any area in the city, thereby enabling the registration of those who use it. “Sustainable equipment,” says Nuno, “can result in a substantial reduction in the use of non-skilled labour, fewer lorries in city centres and lower emissions from the use of only environmentally friendly (electric) vehicles.”

Waste generation is increasing and could increase by 73% from 2020 levels by 2050. Addressing this growth is essential if cities are to be sustainable. “We need a sustainable policy that ensures the equipment is adequate and that encourages the participation of all stakeholders, from policymakers and regulators, waste producers (domestic, commercial and industrial), collection authorities and companies to waste recyclers and processors – a policy that incorporates the whole of society. Everyone has their role.”