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Waste is linked to the development of societies. The vast majority of human activities produce waste as solids, liquids or gases which, lacking any intrinsic value, are disposed of into the environment. Waste has reached all media, affecting the quality of air, soil and water, and thus the health of humans and natural ecosystems (refer also to the Atmosphere and Water chapters for indicators related to air and water quality). Currently, urban and hazardous waste management has become a top priority on the agendas of many countries.

The effects of waste largely depend on its chemical and physical characteristics, as well as on volumes generated. In general, waste generation has followed the trends of the countries’ urbanization, economic growth and industrialization. In Mexico, total urban solid waste (USW) generation increased 26% over the last ten years, in parallel with the growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and population expenditure. Globally, it is estimated that USW generation has increased about 31.1% between 2004 and 2008 (that is, about 7% per year; UNEP, 2008).

The importance of the waste issue has been long related to its effects on human health. In addition to the release of foul odor, smoke, gases and particulate matter, improperly disposed USW may promote diseases borne by vectors such as rats, cockroaches and insects (FEMA, 1995; IDB-OPS, 1997) and even be direct causal agents of enteric diseases, hepatitis and some skin conditions (BID and OPS, 1997). For its part, pollution of water sources by hazardous waste (HW) and its subsequent consumption by the population have been associated with diseases such as cancer, birth defects and kidney and liver damage (Diaz-Barriga, 1996; Ostrosky et al., 1996).

Besides its effects on health, important environmental damage on ecosystems caused by improper handling of waste has also been documented. For example, the presence of USW in water bodies causes several impacts: in surface water, they alter the habitat physical structure and impairs water quality (Fatta et al., 2000; Fetter, 2001), in some cases leading to the eutrophication of water bodies and affecting the food chain, with effects on the structure and diversity of aquatic communities (Revenga et al., 2000).

Because of this, wastes constitute an important issue in the national public agenda. Issues to address at the national level include the increasing volume of waste generated, the difficulty of its collection, the short useful life of landfills, the waste of valued materials and the presence of numerous USW-contaminated sites. Actions to take should follow multiple lines, including minimization of waste generation, creation of waste management infrastructure (storage, collection, transport, storage, reuse, treatment, recycling and final disposal) and, in the case of hazardous waste, the identification and reclamation of contaminated sites as well as contamination prevention through regulatory instruments (EPA-Sedesol, 1993; Semarnat-Profepa, 2003; CMPL, 2004 ; FIPREV, 2004; GTZ, 2004).




BID-OPS. Diagnóstico de la Situación del Manejo de Residuos Sólidos Municipales en América Latina y el Caribe. 1997. Disponible en:

CMPL. Mesa Redonda para la Prevención de la Contaminación en México. Centro Mexicano para la Producción más Limpia. 2004.

Díaz-Barriga, F. Los Residuos Peligrosos en México. Evaluación del Riesgo para la Salud. Salud Pública de México.38: 280-291. 1996.

EPA-Sedesol. Minimización de residuos en la industria del acabado de metales. CEPIS Publicaciones. 1993. 2004. Disponible en:

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Revenga, C., J. Brunner, N. Henninger, R. Payne, y K. Kassem. Pilot analysis of global ecosystems: Freshwater systems. WRI. Washington, D.C. 2000.

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UNEP. Waste. 2008. Disponible en: