Throughout 2016 the UN developed a harmonized and comprehensive approach to measuring and reporting waste management practices.

The methodology requires the collection of data on waste quantities by:

  • type of treatment and disposal (e.g. landfill, recycling, reuse);
  • collection methodology (e.g. municipality, private contractor, take-back scheme); and
  • type of waste (e.g. paper, plastics, metal, e-waste).

The approach follows the recommendations of the Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics developed by the Statistics Division at UN DESA 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 practice between UN organizations.


Results in 2016


A total of 44 UN entities provided waste data for 2015. Based on quantitative data from 42 of those entities, relating to 174 sites, the UN-wide annual per capita waste generated was 547 kilograms. About 60 per cent of this total figure is represented by field missions. When field missions are excluded the annual per capita rate is 364 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 at 55 per cent, followed by the UN-managed collection at 36 per cent. The large proportion of UN-managed collection is due to the lack of municipal or private waste collection and disposal facilities in a number of remote locations where the UN operates. This lack of facilities is also the reason behind municipal collection accounting for only 3 per cent of waste. A relatively large proportion of waste of 4 per cent was sold, with the remainder classed as either unknown, donated, exported, or collected as part of a take-back scheme.

In terms of waste disposal, limited facilities, associated with remote locations continue to play a significant role. As a result, 34 per cent of waste was sent to controlled disposal sites, 17 per cent incinerated and 14 per cent landfilled. The UN-wide rate of reuse, recycling and recovery is 26 per cent and as high as 64 per cent when field missions are excluded.

Finally, 14 UN organizations are implementing waste management plans across 197 different sites. The majority of UN organizations (80 per cent) adopted paper-use reduction practices, with 74 per cent providing mains-fed water fountains to reduce the use of plastic bottle across 188 sites. Four organizations introduced a ban on plastic food and drink containers across 71 sites. A total of 16 organizations across 140 sites included take-back clauses3 within their procurement contracts.


Next steps


The Sustainable United Nations facility will review the process carried out in 2016 with a view to improving the quality and quantity of data collection in future years. This follow-up work will see the development of practical tools to assist in waste management, and the launch of a dynamic and comprehensive UN-wide awareness-raising campaign on waste.