Global waste crisis – we need to act now!
There is a global waste crisis. We produce way too much waste and it is going to get worse unless drastic measures are taken. It is up to all of us to avoid waste whenever possible and to contribute to a better waste management.
There are lots of different kinds of waste: paper, plastics, glass, electronic waste (e-waste), chemicals, metal, food waste, nuclear waste and others.
Let’s focus on municipal solid waste first, that is all kinds of waste that is generated from different household activities, also called garbage or trash. Basically, it is our own personal waste, that we can directly influence and reduce.
We produce up to 4.5 kg waste per person per day
The world generates more than 2 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste per year and it is estimated to grow by 70% up to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050, according to the World Bank. The generation of waste is increasing at an unprecedented rate, largely due to the rapid population growth, especially in low-income and middle-income countries.
The amount of waste generated per person differs largely between countries and lies between 0.11 and 4.54 kilograms per person per day. Currently, high income countries generate more waste per person than low income countries. Here are some examples:
- USA: 2.04 kg per person per day
- Germany: 1.25 kg per person per day
- UK: 1.07 kg per person per day
- India: 200 g (small cities) – 600g (large cities) per person per day (high increase expected)
- China: 0.43 kg per person per day (in larger cities much higher)
- South Africa: 0.98 kg per person per day
- Brazil: 1.04 kg per person per day
Please note that these are kg per person per day. If you live in a household of 4 you have to multiply the number by 4! If you live in a larger city, you are more likely to produce much more waste than these average numbers for your country.
Therefore, we can probably all agree that there is LOTS of room for improvement.
At least 33% of the global waste is mismanaged through open dumping or burning
According to the WorldBank
Why is waste that bad?
A strange question to ask, you might think. And you are right, but we would like to point out the many bad effects waste has on our environment and on us.
First of all, all items that end up being waste need to be produced first. Raw materials are being used, energy is required for production, and the transport to the consumer generates greenhouse gases. That is the case for all kinds of waste: packaging, single-use items or the t-shirt that you only wear three times before you throw it out.
By thinking twice about everything that you buy you can already help avoid the production and transportation of waste to be.
Once the items have become waste, at least 33% of the global waste is mismanaged through open dumping or burning, according to the World Bank. And yes, most high-income countries have better waste management systems than low income countries and therefore a lower rate of mismanaged waste. But most high-income countries ship millions of tons of waste per year to poorer countries in Asia and Africa where waste is not necessarily managed or even recycled properly.
All waste that is not recycled properly ends up in our nature and threatens wildlife and entire ecosystems – and us humans!
Mismanaged waste will produce marine litter and cause air, soil and water contamination
- 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year.
- Open dumps and uncontrolled landfills are a direct source of greenhouse gases: In 2016, around 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent were generated from the treatment and disposal of waste – that makes up around 5 percent of global emissions.
- Uncontrolled disposal generates serious heavy metals pollution occurring in the water, soil, and plants.
We all know that the contaminants of water, soil and plants will eventually end up in our human bodies.
Open dump sites also pose direct serious health risks to people involved in informal waste recycling and waste picking. Approximately 15million people around the world are involved in informal waste recycling and they are exposed to injuries, respiratory diseases, dermatological problems and infections. Waste dumps also allow the breeding of insects and therefore the spread of infectious diseases.
What can every one of us do?
Avoid – recycle – reuse!
There are plenty of ways to reduce your own personal waste. Here are some ideas:
- Buy less stuff. There is a lot that we do not actually need.
- Think twice before buying anything.
- Do not buy bad quality stuff, low quality items are designed to be thrown out. Producers should be forced by the consumers to stop producing low quality goods.
- Buy groceries without packaging if possible.
- Separate waste that can be recycled.
- Recycle properly – check your local recycling options and use them.
- Use recycled products like recycled paper.
- Fix broken items like mobile phones, electrics or clothes rather than throwing them out.
- Check out a second-hand shop or shop used items online.
- Donate or sell clothes or toys that you do not need anymore.
Sources and further reads
The World Bank released a comprehensive report on waste generation and management called “What a waste 2.0”
The full report: http://datatopics.worldbank.org/what-a-waste/
Trends in solid waste management: https://datatopics.worldbank.org/what-a-waste/trends_in_solid_waste_management.html
Sources for waste per person per day:
South Africa: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/30317
A very detailed review on waste mismanagement in developing countries and the arising issues: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466021/
A review on public health issues related to mismanaged waste: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29222091