The methodology for measuring and reporting waste management practices was developed and implemented during the 2016 waste inventory. It was improved in 2017 by incorporating lessons learnt and feedback from UN focal points. The methodology requires the collection of data on waste quantities by:

  1. type of waste (e.g. paper, plastics, metal, e-waste, etc.).
  2. method of collection (e.g. municipality, private contractor, take-back scheme, etc.); and,
  3. type of treatment and disposal (e.g. landfill, recycling, reuse, etc.);

The approach follows the recommendations of the Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics developed by the Statistics Division at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and is in line with Global Reporting Initiative indicators.

In addition, qualitative information on activities such as implementation of policy and waste management plans is collected to enable the sharing of best practices between UN entities.


Results in 2017


A total of 56 UN entities provided waste data for 2016, an increase of 21 per cent on last year. Based on quantitative data from 52 of those entities, relating to 316 sites, the UN-wide annual per capita waste generated in 2016 was 554 kilograms. About 77 per cent of this total figure is represented by field missions. 

When Field Missions are excluded, the annual per capita rate is 278 kilograms. This difference is largely due to the fact that the work of field missions takes place in camps where occupants both work and live, unlike a typical UN office where waste is generated during working hours only.


Regarding waste collection, private contractors collected the largest proportion of waste (68 per cent), followed by the UN-managed collection (20 per cent). The large proportion of the latter is due to the lack of municipal or private waste collection and disposal facilities in a number of remote locations where the UN operates. Lack of facilities is also the reason behind municipal collection accounting for only 3 per cent of waste. In 2016, 7 per cent of waste was sold, with the remainder categorised as unknown, donated, exported, or collected as part of a take-back scheme. 

In terms of waste disposal, the limited facilities associated with remote locations continue to play a significant role. As a result, 30 per cent of waste was sent to controlled disposal sites1, 17 per cent incinerated and 11 per cent landfilled. The UN-wide rate of reuse, recycling2  and recovery is 30 per cent or 46 per cent when Field Missions are excluded.

Finally, 20 UN entities are implementing waste management plans across 75 different sites. The majority of reporting UN entities (95 per cent) adopted paper-use reduction practices, and 84 per cent provided mains-fed water fountains to reduce the use of plastic bottles across 273 sites. Twelve entities introduced a ban on plastic food and drink containers across 123 sites, and a total of 36 entities across 239 sites included take-back clauses within their procurement contracts.


Next steps


The Sustainable United Nations facility will continue to improve existing and develop new tools that are aimed at enhancing the quantity and quality of waste inventory data. These efforts will be supported by the implementation of a dynamic and comprehensive UN-wide awareness-raising campaign on waste management.


1A controlled disposal site is a designated and municipality/government-authorised site for disposal of waste lacking one or more of the pollution prevention measures associated with technical landfill sites. Such sites are mostly used by UN peacekeeping in countries lacking technical landfill sites.

2Includes composted waste as well as waste separated and collected for recycling.