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Waste to Resource


Rationale and Overview

A waste crisis is clearly evident in the Asia and Pacific region, fuelled by rising quantities of waste and changing consumption and production patterns, on the one hand, and poor regulation and limited resources on the other. Due to a combination of urbanization, demographic growth and economic development, every year sees more waste produced in the towns and cities of Asia and the Pacific. According to World Bank data, the total daily waste generation rate in Asia-Pacific is expected to more than double from current levels, to around 2.4 million tons daily in 2025. The emerging waste crisis threatens to overwhelm the resources and capacity of local governments and communities alike.

Within this crisis, however, is a significant and largely untapped opportunity for transformative change. To seize this opportunity, towns and cities need new methods and strategies for managing solid waste. In particular, a paradigm shift is required whereby towns and cities, that usually see waste as a problem and burden, begin to understand it as a valuable resource from which sustainable benefits can be derived.

A waste-to-resource approach can help cities and towns turn the crisis into an opportunity and sustainably manage their solid waste. This approach is built on the principles of 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) and aims at making the most of a range of recycling opportunities. Typically, the organic fraction of solid waste in low- and middle-income cities averages between 51-65 per cent and the fraction of recyclable inorganic waste averages between 26-33 per cent. This presents a considerable and largely untapped opportunity for resource recovery in these towns and cities. ESCAP and its partners are committed to helping cities and towns in the region to seize this opportunity, thereby bringing a wide range of benefits across a number of sectors, including green job creation, better health, cost savings, improved food security and climate change mitigation.

The opportunity presented by organic and inorganic recyclable waste in cities

The opportunity presented by organic and inorganic recyclable waste in cities

Our Approach

Since 2009, ESCAP, Waste Concern and their partners have been promoting a waste-to-resource approach to sustainable solid waste management in towns and cities across the region, with financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. To do this, ESCAP’s work has focused on the Integrated Resource Recovery Center as a model uniquely suited to the realities and constraints of managing solid waste in town and cities in developing countries.

The Integrated Resource Recovery Center model was first developed in Dhaka, Bangladesh by Waste Concern (, an award winning social business enterprise. An Integrated Resource Recovery Center is a low-cost, low-tech, decentralized facility that converts incoming waste into various resources, such, as fertilizer (compost) or energy. Products from Integrated Resource Recovery Centers can be solid on local or national markets: compost can be sold to local farmers, homeowners and the municipal parks department, for example, and recycled plastic bottles can be sold into the recycling industry.

Common techniques used in Integrated Resource Recovery Centers

Common techniques used in Integrated Resource Recovery Centers

Beyond cleaning recyclable inorganic material, there are five main techniques used in the IRRC model:

  • Composting organic waste. This is the most common process used. For a typical 3-tonne capacity facility, 12 perforated composting boxes are built of bricks, and each box can accommodate 15 tonnes of organic waste. Excess water and leachate drains from the biodegrading waste in the boxes and is collected and channelled to tanks for processing.
  • Co-composting organic waste with faecal sludge. Another option is to jointly compost organic waste and faecal sludge collected from septic tanks and pit latrines. In this process, faecal sludge is transported to the co-composting plant where it is separated into solid and liquid matter. The liquid component is filtered and released when it meets water-quality standards. The solid matter is dried before being added to the wet organic waste during the composting process described above.
  • Producing biogas from organic waste. Still another option is to use organic waste to produce biogas through anaerobic digestion, which is decomposition without oxygen. Biogas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, can then be used as a cooking fuel or to generate electricity. For anaerobic digestion to be successful, incoming organic waste must be of high quality and contain no inorganic matter.
  • Producing refuse-derived fuel. Material that does not work for composting or biogas production can be used to make refuse-derived fuel. In this process, combustible materials are sorted from other waste types and crushed and shredded into a uniform size. They are then dried and compacted to form a small pellet, or RDF. RDF can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels, especially coal, in certain industries, such as cement factories and brick kilns.
  • Producing biodiesel out of used cooking oil. Used cooking oil collected from households and restaurants can be converted into biodiesel. Conversion is based on a reaction between the cooking oil and alcohol, which yields biodiesel and glycerol. Biodiesel can be a stand-alone fuel or can be mixed with petroleum-based diesel.

Integrated Resource Recovery Centers usually are small-scale (2-20 tons), do not require mechanization and, therefore, are simple and cheap to operate, offering municipalities and communities in developing countries a viable and cost-effective way to sustainably manage and even benefit from solid waste.


Waste-to-resource initiatives are multi-stakeholder and require strong collaboration, commitment and input from a range of actors. ESCAP’s regional programme has been implemented through the following partners.

Regional Partners

Technical Partner

Waste Concern

In-country Partners


Local Government Engineering Department
Kushtia Municipality


Ministry of Environment
Battambang Province
Battambang Municipality
Kampot Province
Kampot Municipality
Community Sanitation and Recycling Organization (CSARO)
Cambodia Education and Waste Management Organization (COMPED)


Ministry of Environment and Forestry
Malang Regency
Jambi Municipality
United Cities and Local Governments Asia-Pacific (UCLG ASPAC)


Ministry of Climate Change
UN-Habitat Pakistan
Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan Memorial Trust
Jammu and Kashmir Cooperative Housing Society

Sri Lanka

Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils
Central Environment Authority
Matale Municipality
Ratnapura Municipality
Sevanatha Urban Resource Center
Micro Enriched Compost (MEC)

Viet Nam

Ministry of Construction
Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment (IMHEN)
Kon Tum Municipal People’s Committee
Quy Nhon Municipal People’s Committee
Environment and Development in Action (ENDA) Viet Nam
Association of Vietnamese Cities (ACVN)