Waste, health, sustainability: what way forward?

WHO/Dalia Lourenço

Delegates review the health impacts of exposure to waste

Representatives from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Romania, Serbia and Tajikistan as well as waste researchers, advisors, and specialists in waste, toxicology, hygiene and environmental health have agreed on priority actions for waste management.

Reviewing the latest evidence, they expressed concern over the health effects and costs for current and future generations, environmental injustice and social inequalities related to waste disposal, management and trafficking and to contaminated sites.

“Management of waste is a demanding and challenging undertaking in all European countries, with important implications for human health and well-being, environmental preservation, sustainability and economy,” said Dr. Marco Martuzzi, Programme Manager, Environment and Health Intelligence and Forecasting, WHO European Centre for Environment and Health.

The meeting was held in Bonn, Germany on 5-6 October to identify evidence-informed, health-friendly policy goals, to be negotiated at the 2017 Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health.

Outcomes of the meeting:

  • updated evidence on the health impact of waste-related exposures, including a new EU wide health impact assessment of landfills;
  • an overview of informal waste disposal activities and special waste flows such as toxic industrial waste;
  • consensus on priority action to abate human exposure to waste-related hazards, promote sustainability and circular economy (while preventing the recycling of toxic agents);
  • identification of viable policy goals and objectives for Member States’ consideration within the European Environment and Health Process, and
  • formulation of health arguments for further implementation of the EU waste hierarchy, including in non-EU Member States.

Context for the renewed European Environment and Health Agenda

Initiated in the late 1980s, the European Environment and Health Process is currently taking place in the context of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development; it aims at ensuring coherent and integrated support to implementation across Member States, sectors and UN fora. This platform focuses on the Sustainable Development target 3.9 and on other 16 Sustainable Development Goals that have the greatest potential to protect and improve health and wellbeing under pressure from global environmental change, including climate change, demographic changes, migration and urbanization and emerging economic and technological developments globally.  

Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health

The conference, to be held 13-15 June 2017 in Ostrava, Czech Republic, will bring together health and environment ministers and high-level representatives of the WHO European Member States, partner organizations, academia and civil society. It is expected to adopt a Ministerial Declaration on priorities and actions, with an implementation plan for the coming years.