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Dealing with Waste

The World Bank expects that annual waste generation will increase by 70 per cent by 2050. Minimizing waste, disposing of it safely, and recycling and reusing it are critical goals for the circular economy and the implementation of target 12.5 of the 2030 Agenda. Despite policy efforts, waste continues to increase in both absolute and per capita levels in many economies in the UNECE region.

Movement of waste

Plastic waste
  • The cross-border movement of waste for materials recovery remains a major hurdle for the development of a circular economy.  The Standards for the Transboundary Movement of Waste developed by UN/CEFACT serve to classify waste, track and trace its transboundary movement and its disposal and exchange in compliance with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, helping to open up markets for these products.
  • Transport is a key component of a circular economy and, in particular, of waste management. The Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR) and the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Inland Waterways (ADN) facilitate the transport of waste which are classified as dangerous. Contracting parties are considering revisions to further facilitate the disposal or recycling of waste in support of a circular economy.
  • The provisions of the ADR and ADN include provisions for the safe transport of batteries and fuel cells for recycling or disposal, including when used or damaged. The provisions envisage a “cradle-to-grave” approach for dangerous goods, as they address not only their design, construction, remanufacture, use, reuse and repair but also the transport of damaged or waste packaging for recycling or disposal.

Waste in specific sectors: food, transport, wood and extractive industries

  • Globally, around one third of global annual production - around 20 per cent in the EU - is wasted or lost. To help tackle this challenge, UNECE developed a Code of Good Practice for Food Loss and Waste Prevention and a Methodology for Food Loss and Waste Measuring provide policy guidance and help to quantify the misuse of resources.


  • UN/CEFACT has developed eBusiness Standards for the digitization of food safety and quality control certificates, such as eLab, eCrop, eCERT and eQuality, which help to speed up the exchange of documents in the supply chain, thereby avoiding unnecessary degradation of produce, transmission of pests and diseases and food loss.
  • Efficient customs procedures, priority treatment of perishable foodstuffs and the use of green lanes contribute to reducing food loss and waste. UNECE’s ATP agreement provides harmonized regulations and rules for refrigerated transport for 48 countries; while eTIR, the computerized version of the TIR procedure, which already saves transport times by up to 80%, will further expedite border crossings.
  • The forest sector has great potential to contribute to a circular economy, as it provides a regenerative source of products. The cascading use of production residues is a common and long-standing practice throughout the forest products sector. UNECE provides wide-ranging support for sustainable forest management and the forest products sector in the region, and is currently exploring the possibility of developing a wood waste classification for the region.
  • The UN Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) makes it possible to assess in an internationally comparable manner the economic potential of recovering otherwise unused by-products from mining, while also integrating social and environmental considerations
  • Tools developed under the Industrial Accidents Convention can help countries and operators to contain the negative impact of the extraction of raw materials, such as the safe management of mine tailings.
gas pipelines
  • Global atmospheric concentrations of methane are rising and, given that methane has an instantaneous global warming potential 120 times higher than that of CO2 emissions, improving its management can bring significant near-term climate change mitigation benefits. Methane also represents an important energy source which is yet to be fully exploited. In response, UNECE has developed guidance for methane management in the oil and gas sectors and for both operating and abandoned coal mines.

Economic instruments and infrastructure for waste management

  • In many countries in South Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, arrangements for waste collection reach only between 40–80 per cent of the population. Helping to scale up recycling practices, UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews (EPR) include analysis and recommendations on waste management and related issues. The fourth cycle of reviews beyond 2022 will also address the circular economy, at governments’ request.
recycling waste bins

Measuring waste