Solid waste management (SWM) has become an issue of increasing global concern as urban populations continue to rise and consumption patterns change. The health and environmental implications associated with SWM are mounting in urgency, particularly in the context of developing countries. While systems analyses largely targeting well-defined, engineered systems have been used to help SWM agencies in industrialized countries since the 1960s, collection and removal dominate the SWM sector in developing countries. This review contrasts the history and current paradigms of SWM practices and policies in industrialized countries with the current challenges and complexities faced in developing country SWM. In industrialized countries, public health, environment, resource scarcity, climate change, and public awareness and participation have acted as SWM drivers towards the current paradigm of integrated SWM. However, urbanization, inequality, and economic growth; cultural and socio-economic aspects; policy, governance, and institutional issues; and international influences have complicated SWM in developing countries. This has limited the applicability of approaches that were successful along the SWM development trajectories of industrialized countries. This review demonstrates the importance of founding new SWM approaches for developing country contexts in post-normal science and complex, adaptive systems thinking.
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