USA: 4% of the global population, 12% of global waste

It’s estimated that, on average, each person in the world produces about 0.74kg of solid waste (trash/garbage) daily [1]. But there is a large range – from an average of 0.46kg in Sub-Saharan Africa to 2.21kg in North America [1,13]!

Indeed, high income countries account for only 16% of the global population but generate 34% of the world’s municipal waste (i.e. waste produced by the public) [1,2]. The USA has a particular responsibility for waste: home to just 4% of the population, the country generates 12% of global waste [3]. You could call this ‘waste inequality’.

The serious environmental impacts of waste, are not necessarily felt by those who produce it. For example: > Waste disposal and treatment accounted for about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, contributing to the climate crisis [1] > Liquid leaking from landfill can contaminate drinking water [4,5] > Rubbish (especially plastic) can harm wildlife [6]. Plastic pollution has increased 10-fold since 1980, although it remains a smaller threat to nature than climate change, hunting, fishing, and conversion of natural habitat to farmland [7].

Global consumption of materials has more than tripled since 1970 [8]. If past trends continue, as countries become richer they will consume more [9] and produce more waste [1]. Total waste generation in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is expected to triple by 2050 [1].

To minimise the negative impacts on nature, the climate and people, we need to produce less waste and deal with the waste we produce more responsibly [1,10]. Two of the key needs for addressing this are changes to personal lifestyles [11,12], and investment by governments in dealing with waste responsibly (waste management usually costs over $100 per tonne in high-income countries) [1].

In our next posts we’ll look at different ways of dealing with waste – how good is recycling as a way to deal with waste, or should we burn it to generate power?

References

[1] http://datatopics.worldbank.org/what-a-waste/trends_in_solid_waste_management.html

[2] https://data.oecd.org/waste/municipal-waste.htm

[3] https://www.maplecroft.com/insights/analysis/us-tops-list-of-countries-fuelling-the-mounting-waste-crisis/ See: Share of global population and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) for G20 countries

[4] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0043135412002771 See: Introduction

[5] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10661-006-1505-7

[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X15002985 See: Abstract

[7] https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/4783129/Summary%20for%20Policymakers%20IPBES%20Global%20Assessment.pdf?__hstc=&__hssc=&hsCtaTracking=91fd55c1-7918-40d1-a145-73e8dab568a9%7C67bf054a-fcc7-448e-9235-42416b2b6e88 See: Figure 2 and Direct and indirect drivers of change have accelerated during the past 50 years, point 10

[8] https://rare.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/2018-CCNBC-Report.pdf See: The opportunity of human consumption for reducing global emissions

[9] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212567115003743 See: Abstract

[10] https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Waste-factsheet.pdf See: What can be done to reduce emissions in this sector?

[11] https://iges.or.jp/en/publication_documents/pub/technicalreport/en/6719/15_Degree_Lifestyles_MainReport.pdf See: E.g. What we found – targets and gaps

[12] https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ieam.1614?casa_token=A8U7Bl4OOFEAAAAA%3Au2XJQ2Lbv7s-TKktECrUZtqOMxhQqWhw6XcgB-ACH9Br8Vc3_OgIFR-WlsKdSCBe4ZikhpDy_xockw See: E.g. Abstract and Average avoided impacts for representative products

[13] https://www.greengrowthknowledge.org/sites/default/files/downloads/resource/What%20a%20Waste%202.0%20%20A%20Global%20Snapshot%20of%20Solid%20Waste%20Management%20to%202050.pdf See: Table 2.1

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