Reducing the footprint of humanitarian logistics

Mon, 11/02/19

For humanitarian logisticians, moving lifesaving goods to the world’s most remote, complex and hardest-to-reach communities is a daily task. But when goods arrive, what happens to the waste?

In countries that don’t have recycling facilities – or even safely managed landfill sites – it is important to consider how we can minimise our impact. Infrastructure, IT equipment, oil, car tyres, packaging, etc. – what happens to all of these items once the aid has been delivered?

Logisticians are working together to reduce packaging waste stockpiles– in Ethiopia 100 tonnes of food cartons were recycled in 2018, through a paper factory. Photo credit: WFP/Andy Cole

Last November, participants gathered for the first Logistics Cluster Global Meeting hosted by the World Food Programme at their headquarters in Rome. The meeting was held from 6-7 November, gathering 62 participants from 42 organisations for two days of working and discussions. The overall environmental and sustainability theme took on a specific focus on “Reverse Logistics”, which was addressed through a thought-provoking keynote speech by Dr Gyöngyi Kovacs of the Hanken Institute.

This was followed by a rigorous and engaging panel discussion featuring Dr Kovacs and environmental experts from UN Environment, IFRC and WFP, who led meeting participants in breakout group activities designed to encourage idea sharing and to create practical steps that attendees could take back to their organisations following the event.

A range of key sustainability concepts were highlighted in discussions; from the idea of closing the resource loop (through a principle called the Circular Economy), to looking for ‘second life’ options such as donating goods that are still in working order, or repurposing shipping containers when they’re no longer fit for transport. It was also clear that separating waste streams is crucial if we’re going to find ways to recycle, repurpose or recover energy from materials, and the idea that some forms of disposal are better than others was useful food for thought.

The Waste Hierarchy can help us choose better disposal options. Source: Improving Waste Management in the UN: Guidance for Practitioners, UNEP, 2018.

But the most vital message? Preparedness.

Preparedness means we can raise the bar in budget planning to account for waste disposal and increasing knowledge on local recycling options. Done well, preparedness helps manage risks including breaching local regulations or causing environmental harm through dumping, open burning or spills. But overall, a preparedness approach promotes circular thinking, which is one of the most powerful tools we have to solve the sustainability challenge.

The workshop groups identified a range of possible solutions to environmental challenges faced within humanitarian logistics operations, including the importance of information sharing, not only between experts and participants, but also between different organisations following the meeting. Participants were also encouraged to contact the environmental focal points within their own organisations. The Global Logistics Cluster has also made steps towards better integrating reverse logistics information into global tools, such as the Logistics Capacity Assessments and the Logistics Operational Guide.

These meetings are important, and aim to provide a space for thought leadership. They allow partners to tackle big issues faced by the wider humanitarian logistics community, and the initial discussions on this crucial topic were an important first step towards a greater adoption of environmental considerations during humanitarian operations.

This article was originally posted by the Logistics Cluster, please click here for the full story.

Categories: Procurement, Waste