Towards responsible management of urban waste


The importance of responsibly managing waste becomes increasingly evident, but for many, important questions remain. 

Is it worth doing in Panama?

What resources do we have at our disposal? Panama has one of the highest averages of solid waste generation per capita in the region: the national average being 1.2 kg of daily waste per person, a figure that’s above the regional average of 0.9 kg / day, according to the Inter-American Bank of Development. 

According to data from the Urban and Domiciliary Cleaning Authority of Panama (AAUD, for its acronym in Spanish), this rate is even higher for inhabitants of the metropolitan area, where it increases to 1.6 kg of daily waste per inhabitant. Panama City, like many other cities, faces important environmental sustainability challenges related to waste management.

Although most people would not think of it as a cause of major problems such as the increase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the fact is the World Bank estimates the waste produced after consumption represents almost 5% of all GHG emissions globally, while landfills generate 12% of the total global methane emissions.

Recycling: action on par with intentions Fortunately, Panama is beginning to understand that it is increasingly important to develop innovative waste management strategies as a viable option to address the complex challenges we face regarding environmental and sustainability issues. According to Alessa Stabile, Sustainability Manager at the City of Knowledge Foundation (FCdS, for its acronym in Spanish) , sustainability and recycling go hand in hand: “at FCdS, we believe in changing what is within our reach, so that later, change can be replicated, ” she says.

Their Comprehensive Waste Management Program (Programa Integral de Gestión de Residuos), established in 2008, is aligned with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number 11 and 12, which aim to promote sustainable cities and responsible consumption & production, respectively. Moreover, the program is one of the urban management tools that have contributed to make the City of Knowledge a space of knowledge and sustainable urbanism.

“The City of Knowledge model is proof of how we have managed to successfully transform a former military space into a sustainable city, generating knowledge, innovation and responsible production and consumption,” explains Stabile. In addition to the 68 recycling points found in the City of Knowledge campus, there is also a Center for the Collection and Management of Recyclable Solid Waste (CAM).

These resources have generated synergies making it possible to divert 68 tons of recyclable waste from the landfill in 2017 alone, and a total of 1,329 tons since the program began at the City of Knowledge. The City of Knowledge – FAS Alliance: a long-term commitment to sustainability The City of Knowledge needed to know exactly what it was facing in terms of waste, in order to design a mitigation plan.

For this purpose, in 2010, it sought the advice of the Foundation for Social Action for Panama (FAS, for its acronym in Spanish), a pioneering recycling organization in the country, which had been implementing since 1995, a Solid Waste Recovery Program. A diagnosis was carried out for the City of Knowledge to assess the current state of solid waste management on campus and thus allowed to identify type and amount of waste generated by its users, as well as residents and visitors. After this analysis, work began on the design of an Integrated Management Plan for recyclable solid waste generated at the City of Knowledge, aligned with its sustainability objectives.

This plan described all the operational aspects to be taken into account to adapt and equip the Recycling Center and marked the beginning of a long-term alliance between Ciudad del Saber and FAS. Since then the Recycling Center has been operating at the City of Knowledge and has become a point of reference for recycling not only within the adjoining areas of the campus, but also in several areas of Panama City as well as a viable model that can be replicated somewhere else: they constantly receive visits from schools, universities, companies and institutions and organizations. It receives materials from different sources: users of the City of Knowledge, voluntary deliveries by residents inside and outside the campus, as well as external deliveries by companies and institutions located off campus.

For Marisol Landau, President at FAS, it’s a “dynamic process that undoubtedly contributes to sustainable human development from all spheres: social, environmental, economic and ethical; and its impact will be greater as other similar projects operate throughout the country. ” Landau argues that, although the benefits are many, there is one that perhaps is left out of the usual analysis: “the satisfaction of doing the right thing” experienced by those who make recycling a habit. “We see it on their faces when they arrive at the Recycling Center, with their families, or when they get out of their cars in a hurry to drop off their bags, before getting to work or going back home,” she says.

“On this winding road of change, we hope many will seek to generate less waste and opt to be responsible consumer,” says Landau. The World Bank warns that waste generated by urban residents will almost double by 2025 and that cities in developing countries will be the most affected by this increase in solid waste.

Our duty is to keep implementing initiatives that reduce, reuse and recycle as much waste as possible. If we want to see significant changes in our environment, we need to recycle whenever we can.

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