Solid waste management and air pollution are major challenges in urban areas of Peru, and water pollution is one of the country’s most serious environmental issues.
Municipal solid waste generation was estimated at 7,905,118 tonnes in 2020, countrywide; this volume has been increasing rapidly over the last years (cf. 6,904,950 tonnes in 2014). 70% of that was domestic and the rest commercial and other waste. Average generation rates of total municipal and domestic waste were estimated at 0.81 and 0.57 kg/person/day, respectively (as of 2020), as opposed to the average of 1.47 kg/person/day in OECD countries. Municipal solid waste mainly consisted of organic (56.3%), reusable inorganic (20.9%), non-reusable inorganic (15%), and hazardous waste (7.8%) materials, as of 2020. Generation of non-municipal solid waste (waste from economic activities), particularly hazardous solid waste, is seldom and incompletely reported.
Infrastructure and systems for the collection, treatment, and final disposal of municipal solid waste are noticeably insufficient. Although most (1,809 out of 1,874, as of 2018) municipalities collect municipal solid waste and more final disposal facilities have been built lately, as of 2021, there are only 64 operational sanitary landfills located in 19 departments of the country. As a result, only 787 municipalities disposed properly of their waste in sanitary landfills or through recycling in 2018; only 54.94% of the municipal solid waste generated in 2020 was collected and properly disposed of, while 3,561,719 tonnes were just thrown in open dumping sites, burnt, or dumped into ravines, rivers, the ocean, etc.
Areas where municipal waste has been continuously dumped without proper environmental protection measures have been degraded and have been permanently closed to be restored or reconverted. A 2018 countrywide inventory of the areas degraded by accumulation of municipal waste identified a total of 1,585 degraded sites, covering 1977.6 ha, mainly in the Lambayeque, Ica, Piura, and Lima departments.
Another consequence of the insufficient collection and inadequate disposal of municipal solid waste is the pervasive contamination with plastic observed in inland water bodies and marine zones. This is becoming a major concern given the increasing use of plastic items; some 947,000 tonnes of plastics were estimated to have been used in 2016, compared to 631,000 tonnes in 2008. About 68% of the total volume of plastic waste was made of single-use items, mainly bags and PET and expanded polystyrene bottles. , , , , , , , .
Poor air quality is a major issue in Peru's urban and industrial zones, particularly the Metropolitan Area of Lima and Callao. No nationwide air quality monitoring network is in place. However, the main air quality variables (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, and SO2) are monitored in the Metropolitan Area of Lima and Callao through a network of 17 automatic monitoring stations complementarily run by the National Meteorology and Hydrology Service (SENAMHI) and the General Directorate of Environmental Health (DIGESA). Although annual average values of all the variables showed a slightly decreasing trend during the period 2014 – 2021, they often exceeded both global and national air quality standards, except for NO2. The 2020 World Air Quality Report found Peruvian cities, as a whole, to exhibit moderate levels of air pollution, with an annual average well above the WHO exposure threshold target of 10 µg PM2.5/m³. DIGESA also records daily PM10 values in 14 other departments of the country , , , .
Pollution of watercourses, inland and coastal water bodies, and aquifers has become critical in some parts of the country. No nationwide water quality monitoring network is in place and data available are incomplete and outdated. The National Water Authority (ANA) conducted, in 2014, a first assessment of the state of the country’s water resources. Water quality measurements recorded between 2000 and 2012 by various government agencies in 59 hydrographic units across the country were compiled and analysed. Results revealed concentrations of thermotolerant coliforms, arsenic, lead, and cadmium that made water unsuitable for irrigation purposes in all the three major hydrographic regions of the country (the Amazonian, Pacific, and Titicaca watersheds) and for population use in the Pacific and Amazonian watersheds.
Starting in 2009, the ANA launched a systematic effort to measure water quality variables in the country’s major water bodies. A total of 125 hydrographic units (out of 159 major hydrographic units), Lake Titicaca, major bays, and some reservoirs and dams had been examined by the end of 2015. Results showed that, as of 2014, 41 hydrographic units exceeded the Environmental Quality Standards for faecal bacteria, organic matter, ammonia, nitrites, and other variables, rendering their water unsuitable for agricultural use, production of potable water, conservation of the aquatic environment, or other uses.
Overexploitation of aquifers make them vulnerable to contamination. When water abstraction exceeds recharge, the water table level drops, favouring sea-water intrusion. This has been the case in the La Yarada aquifer, near the Chilean-Peruvian border. , , , , 
The main underlying driver of both air pollution and solid waste management issues in Peru is the rapid and highly concentrated urbanisation process that has been taking place, particularly in the Lima-Callao conurbation where about one third of the country’s population resides , , , , . This process creates rapidly increasing needs in relation to air pollution control and solid waste management (including hazardous waste) services, which exceed the capacities of the national and local governments.
Major challenges with regard to solid waste management include: insufficient and inadequate infrastructure for collection, treatment, and final disposal in municipalities; limited resources available to local governments, constraining waste collection and limiting their ability to make the necessary investments in adequate, sufficient infrastructure; and insufficient planning, as only 58.7% of the country’s provincial municipalities have adopted integrated solid waste management plans, and only 231 (out of 1,678) district-level municipalities have developed solid waste management plans (as of 2020); many districts lack the means to regularly report waste generation.
The rapid growth and increasing industrialization of Peru’s major urban zones are driving air quality issues. Even though Peru’s motorisation rate is still very low, the growing size of the automotive fleet and increasing use of fossil fuels have made the transport sector to be responsible for 58% of the total PM2.5 emissions in the Lima-Callao metropolitan area. While the national automotive fleet grew from 44 to 93.5 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants between 2000 and 2019, in the departments of Lima-Callao, Arequipa, and Tacna the values were 172, 152, and 147 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, respectively, as of 2019 . Another major pressure on air quality in Peru’s urban zones is their increasing industrialization. The second largest source (26%) of total PM2.5 emissions in the Lima-Callao metropolitan area is fixed, point sources such as cement and lime factories.
The 2016 National Strategy for the Improvement of Water Resources  identifies the major causes underlying the pollution of Peru's water resources. These include: lack of or insufficient treatment of municipal wastewater; the use of pesticides and fertilizers in crop fields; wastewater from mining , ; wastewater from oil exploitation operations in the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes, and Napo rivers; wastewater from artisanal mining , , ; legacy contaminated sites from mining; and legacy contaminated sites from hydrocarbon exploitation.
Formally licensed mining operations are currently obliged to apply strict procedures for the proper decommissioning of mines and environmental cleanup. However, mining in Peru dates back to colonial times and numerous mines that were shut down long ago, with no decommissioning treatment, exist across the country. Artisanal mining has also left numerous sites that, after having been depleted, were simply abandoned with no decommissioning treatment. Parts of those heavily contaminated sites are, or can be, exposed to weather and their contents lixiviated and infiltrated into the ground, or eroded and carried away by rainwater, thus passively polluting ground and surface waters in their vicinity. Starting in 2009, the Ministry of the Environment has been inventorying legacy contaminated sites from mining activities; the latest (2020) iteration  identified a total of 7,956 contaminated sites across the country.
Legacy contaminated sites from the hydrocarbon sector include abandoned oil wells and facilities, contaminated soils, waste, and waste deposits that were improperly decommissioned after cessation of operations . Starting in 2014, the Ministry of Mines and Energy has been inventorying legacy contaminated sites from the hydrocarbon sector; the latest (2017) iteration  identified a total of 3,457 contaminated sites, most of them in the Pacific hydrographic region, and only 26 in the Amazonian region.
Key policies and governance approach
A major step recently taken to address solid waste issues in Peru is the adoption of the 2017 Integrated Solid Waste Management Act . The law aims to ensure the healthy, environmentally suitable, and economically feasible management of solid waste by implementing integrated management schemes. The Ministry of the Environment is implementing programmes to support municipalities in improving their waste management schemes and investing in integrated waste management systems. Steps are also being taken to adopt extended producers’ responsibility in e-waste management. The Law that Regulates Single-use Plastic and Disposable Containers  is a significant step towards reducing plastic waste in Peruvian seas , , , .
The government of Peru has identified 31 Priority Attention Zones (ZAPs) that host 58% of the country’s population and, because of their conditions, warrant priority attention to improve air quality. As of 2021, 14 ZAPs have already officially adopted and are implementing Action Plans for Improving Air Quality, other ZAPs are in the process of formulating their Action Plans or are already formally adopting them.
Various regulations and policies targeting the transport sector have been adopted over the last years. These include phasing out the commercialization and use of low-sulphur diesel and setting lower maximum allowable limits on emissions from motorcars supplied with Euro IV technology . The Urban Transport Authority of Lima and Callao was created in 2018 with the purpose of constructing an integrated urban transport network in the Lima Metropolitan area, Callao, and the provinces . The Urban Transport Policy  and the National Programme for Sustainable Urban Transport  were adopted in 2019. The national programme aims to promote integrated transport systems in Peruvian cities, with a focus on sustainable urban mobility and increased use of clean energy. A regulation aimed to take old vehicles out from circulation and thus renewing the country’s fleet was recently approved . An official standard setting limits on the sulphur content of diesel, gasoline, and gasoline/alcohol mixtures for their commercialization and use  was approved in 2017. Low-sulphur gasoline and gasoline/alcohol mixtures are now being sold countrywide since 2018 and low-sulphur diesel is sold in 18 of the 24 country’s departments.
As there is insufficient regulation of the environmental impacts of the industrial sector, the Government of Peru has set Environmental Quality Standards, maximum allowable limits, and other regulatory instruments. As infrastructure for air quality monitoring needs to be improved, the Public Investment Program “Improvement and Expansion of the National Services for Environmental Quality”  includes a subcomponent specifically devoted to establishing six air quality monitoring networks in provinces.
Policy instruments aimed at the protection and sustainable management of the country’s water resources were recently issued and adopted. These include: the 2013 National Plan for Water Resources , which sets guidelines to reduce/mitigate the impact of water polluting sources by implementing Integrated Water Resources Management. The 2015 National Policy and Strategy of Water Resources  envisions (Policy Axis 2) strengthening the monitoring of water quality in the country’s water bodies, as well as identifying and inventorying pollution sources affecting natural water bodies. The 2016 National Strategy for the Improvement of the Quality of Water Resources  defines technical, regulatory, and management interventions for the 2016–2025 period along three lines of action: restoring or improving the quality of water resources; protecting water resources; and institutional strengthening for water resources management.
Implementation of such policies is supported by regulatory instruments specifically aimed at protecting or improving quality of Peru’s water resources. These include: (i) Water Quality Standards for various designated uses, including production of potable water; recreation; extraction or cultivation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife; agriculture (crop irrigation and consumption by livestock), and conservation of natural aquatic ecosystems ; (ii) Maximum Allowable Limits for wastewaters from critical emitters such as the fishery  and the mining and metallurgical  industries; and (iii) Analytical methods and test procedures to be used for measuring water quality variables included in Water Quality Standards .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
Significant progress has been made in improving the policy and regulatory framework for solid waste management, improving air quality in urban zones, and addressing water pollution. However, their implementation is challenging.
The large investments needed for the proper collection, treatment, recovery, and disposal of solid and hazardous waste might delay or hinder their implementation, given the limited resources and capacities of local governments. Data on the generation and management of non-municipal waste, particularly hazardous waste, is very limited or entirely absent, which limits traceability and overseeing.
Local-level Action Plans for Improving Air Quality encompass interventions ranging from air quality data and environmental education, through mechanisms for enforcing compliance with environmental standards, to wide-ranging, costly measures such as the use of improved fuels and motor vehicles and improving urban planning and transport systems. Most action plans fail to identify mechanisms for financing their implementation.
The lack of comprehensive, systematic air quality data limits the enforcement of and overseeing of compliance with Air Quality Standards; this is particularly important in those localities where Action Plans are being implemented. Similarly, data on pollutants released from fixed sources (industrial plants) are scarce or absent, which limits the capacity of environmental authorities to identify the emitters, assign liabilities, and formulate corrective measures. Solving the issues posed by the transport sector on the air quality of urban zones involves major high-cost interventions such as modernizing the vehicle fleet, making improved fuels widely available, improving urban transport systems, and regulating and properly planning the future growth of urban areas.
Addressing the underlying causes of water pollution involves long-term, large-scale, costly interventions including the collection and proper treatment of most of the municipal wastewater generated across the country, preventing or reducing the environmental impact of artisanal mining operations, promoting a more rational use of agrochemicals, the remediation and reclamation of legacy contaminated sites across the country, and others.
Goals and Ambitions
The 2013 National Plan for Water Resources  aims to properly treat 99% of the municipal wastewaters generated in rural and urban zones of the Pacific region and urban zones of the Amazon and Titicaca hydrographic regions.
The National Environmental Plan (2011-2021)  aims to achieve full compliance with Water Quality Standards in all the 159 hydrographic regions of the country by 2021.
The 2021 National Environmental Policy  envisions that, by 2030, environmental obligations for reducing emissions of polluting gases have been met and sanitary landfills have been implemented in priority cities. To attain this, two approaches are proposed: strengthening the regulation and overseeing of environmental compliance by economic activities agents, as well as strengthening the regulation, prohibition, or phasing out of equipment and materials that degrade environmental quality and implementing schemes of environmental self-regulation and self-overseeing of the market. The Policy includes two Priority Objectives on this regard: OP3. Reduce air, water, and soil pollution, and OP 4. Increase the proper disposal of solid waste.
Data availability is a critical deficiency that limits the capacity of environmental authorities to implement and enforce regulations, assign liabilities, and formulate corrective measures. In particular, high quality data on the generation and management of non-municipal waste (particularly hazardous waste), water quality, and pollutants release from fixed sources (industrial plants) are missing.
There is currently in place a comprehensive policy and regulatory framework to address the critical issues posed by solid waste management, air quality in urban zones, and water pollution. It is their practical implementation and enforcement that seems extremely challenging. The proper collection, treatment, recovery, and disposal of solid and hazardous waste, the implementation of the most comprehensive measures included in local-level Action Plans for Improving Air Quality and the major interventions necessary to solve the issues posed by the transport sector on the air quality of urban zones, and addressing the underlying causes of water pollution, demand very large investments that are most likely beyond the technical, institutional, and financial capacities of local governments.
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