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Global waste generation - statistics & facts

Waste generation has increased massively around the world in recent decades, and there are no signs of it slowing down. By 2050, worldwide municipal solid waste generation is expected to have increased by roughly 70 percent to 3.4 billion metric tons. This is due to a number of factors, such as population growth, urbanization, and economic growth, as well as consumer shopping habits. Every year, humans produce millions of tons of waste, and this is increasingly becoming a major issue worldwide. With such immense volumes of waste arising, the need for authorities to provide adequate waste treatment and disposal services has become ever more important. However, less than 20 percent of waste is recycled each year, with huge quantities still sent to landfill sites. Waste is also often disposed of at hazardous open dump sites, especially in developing nations. Richer countries produce more waste than poorer countries, but typically have better waste management to help deal with these issues.

Biggest waste producers worldwide

The region that generates the most municipal solid waste (MSW) is East Asia and the Pacific Region. As the world’s most populous nation, China is responsible for the largest share of global municipal solid waste – at more than 15 percent. However, in terms of population the United States is the biggest producer of waste. The U.S. accounts for less than five percent of the global population, but produces roughly 12 percent of global MSW and is the biggest generator of MSW per capita. On average, Americans produce slightly more than 800 kilograms of waste every year. This is more than double the per capita waste generation of Japan, where citizens produce on average, 350 kilograms of MSW each year. In Europe, Denmark is perhaps surprisingly the biggest producer of waste per capita, with Danes producing a similar volume as Americans each year. Waste generation in urban areas is generally twice as much as in rural areas, and the urban population of Denmark is almost 90 percent. Whilst the U.S. is the biggest producer of MSW, when “special waste” categories are taken into account (such as industrial, E-waste, hazardous, and agricultural waste), Canada produces the most waste in the world. Industrial activities such as oil refining, and metal manufacturing mean the annual waste per capita in Canada is estimated to amount to 36.1 metric tons per inhabitant. This is roughly 10 metric tons per capita more than in the U.S.

Global waste streams

Waste consists of various materials, and whilst plastic waste has garnered huge attention in recent years due to it’s impacts on marine life, E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream worldwide. Global electronic waste generation totaled more than 50 million metric tons in 2019 and is expected to increase by an estimated 20 million metric tons in the coming decade. Much like other waste forms, e-waste generation per capita is higher in wealthier nations. Food is the most common form of waste, accounting for almost 50 percent of global MSW. Millions of tons of food is wasted every year, especially fruit and vegetables. Much like other waste forms, the United States is a major producer of food waste, generating almost 100 million metric tons of food waste every year. And much like other waste forms, food waste is a leading cause of environmental pollution.


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