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Non hazardous waste

Non-hazardous waste is solid waste that does not pose an immediate threat to human or environment health. However, even such waste can have negative and even dangerous effects if it is mismanaged, especially in countries missing sufficient infrastructure and regulation.

Why is it important?

Non-hazardous waste represents 95.6% of solid waste produced in Europe (1). It includes municipal solid waste (packaging, clothing, bottles, paper, cardboard, plastics, etc), demolition waste with inert materials like concrete, bricks, stones, and food waste. The volume, type and collection of waste differ starkly by region and by income level. 93% of waste in low-income areas is disposed of in open dumps, and only 2% in high-income countries (2).

The mismanagement of general waste is harmful for the environment and human health. The accumulation of solid waste in the nature pollutes water and soil, kill wildlife by ingestion of plastic, and affect human health and well-being (3). It can also block river flow and create floods (4).

Waste decomposition and burning also contributes to greenhouse gas: 5 % of global emissions, or 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e were generated from solid waste decomposition (liberating methane) or combustion (generating CO2) in 2016(2). This is driven primarily by disposing of waste in open dumps (33% of solid municipal waste worldwide) or uncontrolled landfills (25.2%). Food waste accounts for nearly 50% of those projected emissions because the decomposition of organic waste in landfills, particularly food waste, generates large quantities of methane (2).

Solid waste–related emissions are anticipated to increase to 2.38 billion tonnes of CO2e in 2050 if no improvements are made in the sector.

What are the solutions?

Reducing the impact of non-hazardous waste, such as organic waste, inert material like concrete or demolition blocks, and most of municipal waste, is an environmental priority. Apply general principles for waste management  as identifying, reducing, reusing, recycling, and ensuring the final treatment of waste. The sorting and collection of waste enables recycling  and adequate final treatment in controlled sites and regulated incineration.

In Europe, a 60% decrease in landfilling thanks to recycling or incinerating, combined with increasing gas recovery at landfill sites have reduced 42% of waste emission (5). In regions where waste management structures are not fully operational, the informal sector may cover partially the lack of official structures and regulation.


Key facts

0.74 kg

of municipal waste is produced per person per day in the world (2).


landfilling decrease in Europe, thanks to recycling, incinerating (5)


reduction of waste-related greenhouse gas emissions in Europe with increasing gas recovery at landfill sites (5).


of global emissions were generated from solid waste treatment and disposal in 2016 mainly driven by open dumping and landfill disposal (2).

200 million

of the world’s poorest are at risk of severe and frequent flooding as a result of plastic pollution (4).

Key actions

  • #1 Apply waste management principles

    For all types of waste, respect the following waste management principles: 1 Identify and monitor the waste generated. 2 Avoid and Reduce waste. 3 Repair, reuse items. 4 Sort, store and collect waste properly. 5 Recycle waste. 6 Ensure responsible final treatment. 7 Raise staff awareness.

  • #2 Repair and reuse

    Buying repairable items and have them repaired is a cost-effective and impactful strategy to reduce emissions and waste. This strategy has to be implemented early on in the procurement process. See factsheet “Repairable items”.

  • #3 Recycle waste

    When waste can’t be avoided or reduced any further, recycling is key to reduce local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from landfilling or incineration. In many developing countries and humanitarian settings, waste recycling opportunities exist and should be explored.

  • #4 Compost organic waste

    Composting is a relatively easy and cheap way to produce less waste, reduce methane from landfills, reduce pollution from chemicals, regenerate soil, sequester more carbon in the soil, retain water in the soil, and protect biodiversity. See factsheet “Composting”.


  • #5 Minimise landfill and incineration impact

    For waste that cannot be recycled or reused, ensure proper disposal in designated facilities, where possible. When landfilling or incineration is the only solution, measures such as sanitary landfills and incinerators with filters exist to reduce the impact.


Tools and good practices

  • Educational videos on general waste, 2023

    Course and access to different videos about solid waste definition and difference between municipal and non-municipal waste. Explain the different types of waste.

    Explore here
  • Classification of hazardous waste from UK government

    List of waste type and their classification as hazardous or not. Other UK guidelines also available.

    Read here

To go further

  • The World Bank, What a Waste 2.0, A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, 2018

    A report with a wealth of data on global waste management. It also includes case studies from around the globe.

    Read here
  • UNEP, Waste and climate change, 2010

    Reflexions on turning waste into assets, with energy and primary material recovery

    Explore here
  • UNEP, beyond an age of waste, 2024

    How to include circular economy in waste management

    Read here


(1) Eurostat, ‘Waste statistics’. in, 2020, Available here  [accessed 10 April 2024].

(2) Kaza S, Yao L, Bhada-Tata P, Woerden F. What a waste 2.0 A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050 OVERVIEW [Internet]. 2018. Available here.[accessed 10 April 2024].

(3) Europe, WHORO for, ‘Waste and human health: evidence and needs: WHO meeting report 5–6 November 2015: Bonn, Germany’. in, 2015, Available here. [accessed 8 April 2024]

(4) Cooper, B, SL Letsinger, & C Worth, The impact of plastic pollution on urban flooding events: Estimating the number of people impacted globally Tearfund. , 2023, Available here. [accessed 10 April 2024].

(5) Greenhouse gas emissions from waste [Internet]. 2020. Available here. [accessed 10 April 2024].

Cover photo: Karolina Grabowski/Pexels