by Svante Persson (MIF) and Libby McDonald (MIT)


Many of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially remote and poor urban and semi-urban communities, are facing problems of waste management, which has a negative impact on public health, the local economy, and the environment. More efficient solid waste management systems can in turn improve the overall health of a community, create income generation opportunities in recycling and compost, and provide energy from either the implementation of biogas facilities or the extraction of methane gas from sanitary landfills. Responding to the recent increased awareness and need to solve the garbage problem, the MIF’s Access to Basic Services agenda has made integrated and sustainable solid waste management a priority as it responds to the region’s demand for assistance. In this work, the MIF has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Community Innovators Lab (CoLab)and drawn expertise from previous experiences, including the creatin of local Public Private Partnerships for community basic services; the expertise of IDB water and sanitation and health specialists; and the MIF’s ongoing programs, supporting informal recyclers around the region.

A current example of the MIF’s effort to support the creation and implementation of regional solid waste management systems is now being launched in Nicaragua’s Southern Autonomous Region (RAAS), a remote and ethnically diverse part of the country at the mouth of the Rio Escondido. Here the MIF, MIT’s CoLab and D-Lab, UNDP and the local NGO BlueEnergy have partnered in their efforts to design a comprehensive waste management system that links three municipalities. The objective of the project is to create clean communities that can effectively attract tourism and business; decrease environmental degradation and public health hazards; and generate enough plastic, aluminum, and paper to support the creation of sustainable recycling enterprises. The four-year comprehensive program includes strategies that can achieve the near elimination of solid waste in the Corn Islands, one relatively isolated municipality with 12,000 inhabitants, and establish controlled disposal of waste in the two largest municipalities, El Rama and Bluefields, each with populations just above 50,000.  

Ultimately, the RAAS Integrated Waste Program is not only designed to strive toward zero-waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also to improve people’s quality of life by creating jobs for some of the region’s most impoverished populations.

Going forward and drawing from the lessons learned from this project, the MIF is planning several similar projects in other countries in the region. The replicable model designed by the MIF/MIT team consists of the following components:

  • Communication/Education: Develop awareness and commitment at the household and business level within each of the municipalities for sustainable management of waste.
  • Capacity building: Provide necessary training and technical assistance to residents, community organizations, businesses, and governments, including but not limited to training residents in the selection and classification of waste materials; offering business and technical training to local enterprises created by the project; training municipal workers to improve waste collection; and teaching technicians at various levels of government to plan, manage, and monitor waste.
  • Research and public policy: Develop participatory research and create policies needed to ensure project success, including bans on difficult- to- recycle materials such as Styrofoam and plastic bags.
  • Promote and support the creation of micro and small businesses: Contribute to the development of small businesses in each municipality, including collection businesses and sorting/recycling businesses.
  • Infrastructure component: Assist in the design, co-financing, and purchasing of equipment and small infrastructure created specifically for the waste stream identified in the RAAS.

The video below documents the work of the MIF/MIT partnership in Nicaragua over the last couple of years. 

For more information, contact Svante Persson