Who owns urban waste? Appropriation conflicts in emerging countries

Waste Manag Res. 2014 Sep;32(9):813-21. doi: 10.1177/0734242X14540978. Epub 2014 Jul 18.


Managing solid waste in developing cities is not an easy task and many public policies have failed to bring the expected results. It is here argued that comprehending the solid waste handling in the South implies reconsidering the proper definition of waste. Where does the product end and where does rubbish begin? The answer to this question is far from being obvious. Solid waste appears as a blurred concept. Such a thorny issue is all the more relevant today, as municipal solid waste management approaches in the developing world are being reformulated: dumping sites are banned, sanitary landfills are imposed, and separate collection is being introduced. The current sector transformations are here analysed through a novel theoretical analysis combined with an original qualitative and quantitative empirical work. Through two case-studies of one-million inhabitant cities from emerging countries, it is shown that if appropriation conflicts arise that is because the urban solid waste deposit in Southern countries can be defined as an impure public good. This issue does not only involve private service operators and informal wastepickers; several other actors covet the urban solid waste deposit's cream, that is, recyclable items. In emerging countries, huge industrial groups are starting to target domestic recyclable waste as an alternative for raw materials, which costs are increasing ever more.

Keywords: Appropriation; Brazil; India; Res Derelicta; conflicts; informal sector recycling; municipal solid waste; property.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brazil
  • Cities
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Developing Countries
  • Humans
  • India
  • Ownership
  • Recycling*
  • Refuse Disposal / economics
  • Refuse Disposal / methods
  • Solid Waste / economics
  • Waste Management / economics*
  • Waste Management / methods*


  • Solid Waste