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Antonis Mavropoulos has been involved in the solid waste management sector for more than 20 years. He is the founder and CEO of D-Waste, a global startup that aims to make waste management know-how and science, easily available and accessible to everyone. Mavropoulos serves as Chair of the International Solid Waste Management Association‘s (ISWA) Scientific and Technical Committee. He is also a member of the Clinton Global Initiative and participates as an expert at the European PPP Center (EPPPC), dedicated to serve as a know-how center for public sector bodies, private entrepreneurs, investors and other industry players on the growing international marketplace of Public Private Partnerships (PPP).

This article is part of a series of interviews that were conducted during the Urban Sustainability Course organized by the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI), Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo and the City of Santander between July 28 and August 1, 2014. Learn more about the course here.

 

ESCI: What’s the key to successful waste management in cities?

Successful waste management in cities depends on many different parameters, but the main one is to understand it as a system, and not just as a sum of infrastructure and logistics. It is a system with technical, social, financial, and institutional dimensions. And if you want to build a system, you have to think in a systemic way. The most common mistake is that people tend to think about waste management in terms of infrastructure, and then they do nothing because they wait for the government to deliver it. The most successful approach is to think about waste management as a system disconnected from human relations, and to try to change it.

ESCI: What’s the role for the informal sector in waste management?

I would say that Latin America shows the way for the informal sector worldwide. Many experiments have been done with the association of cartoneros in Buenos Aires and with the catadores in Brazil. One thing we know for sure from Latin American experiences is that, if it gets organized and becomes part of the system, the informal sector has a lot to offer. The other thing we know is that we have to change municipalities’ and business owners’ attitudes towards the informal sector. Informal sector recyclers are not enemies, even if sometimes they are in competition with us for the same materials. Informal sector recyclers, in most cities, are the only organized activity around waste management, and we have to deal with them as partners.

ESCI: What can mayors do to improve local waste management systems?

The most important asset for better waste management is human capital, or human resources. So no matter how difficult or easy it is the waste management situation in each municipality, there is one single step that you have to take: create the core of people that understand the situation, that are capable to interact, give them a vision and a management capacity. And let them work on that. If you build such a core, then you will find the funds, the technical elements, the infrastructure, and the social aspects required. If you don’t have such a core of people, you will never do it.