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?




[3] See: Share of global population and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) for G20 countries

[4] See: Introduction


[6] See: Abstract

[7] See: Figure 2 and Direct and indirect drivers of change have accelerated during the past 50 years, point 10

[8] See: The opportunity of human consumption for reducing global emissions

[9] See: Abstract

[10] See: What can be done to reduce emissions in this sector?

[11] See: E.g. What we found – targets and gaps

[12] See: E.g. Abstract and Average avoided impacts for representative products

[13] See: Table 2.1

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