Says study, points to challenges as countries move to ban imports of discarded goods

Global Waste

A new study has identified the United States — the nation where the idea of mass production was born — as the world’s top producer of waste while also being the worst among industrialised nations at managing it.

The US generates 12 percent of global municipal waste — three times the global average — but only accounts for 4 percent of the world’s population, reads the report, which was produced by Verisk Maplecroft, a United Kingdom-based research firm and consultancy specialising in global risk data and country risk analysis.

In comparison, China and India make up more than 36 percent of the world’s population and generate 27 percent of that waste.

The figures emerge as the world faces an escalating waste crisis driven largely by plastics piling up in developing countries and the oceans. The US is at a crossroads as China and other developing countries refuse to continue to accept its waste, the report authors say.

The research indicates that at 773kg per head, American citizens produce over three times as much waste as their Chinese counterparts, while municipal waste generation per capita is four times higher in the United States than in India.

But the US is not the only country that is bad at managing waste. While better than America at recycling, other industrialized countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, are also disproportionately responsible for waste generation, the study shows.

Asia, often made the scapegoat for the world’s plastic crisis, has undoubtedly contributed to marine plastic pollution, but such criticism has neglected the fact that Asian nations have traditionally served as the world’s trash dumps, with industrialized countries shipping their waste to the region for recycling to prevent their homelands from getting swamped by the goods they discard, reported Eco-Business online.

Plastic waste flows have been directed at developing nations that tend to lack the resources to recycle adequately. What’s worse, such deliveries have often contained a mixture of various waste types, which make adequate recycling difficult if not impossible.

But, the study shows, this era is coming to an end. As waste importing countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, are moving to limit the material they accept or ban it outright following China’s foreign waste ban 18 months ago, industrialized nations must find ways to reduce the rate at which they devour resources and deal with their own plastic waste rather than dumping it in the developing world.

Will Nichols, research firm’s head of environment, said the US had better recycling abilities than much of the world, “but the sheer amount of waste that is being generated is not being dealt with as well”.

For 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported the country generated 262m tonnes of municipal waste, with more than half of it sent to a landfill, reported The Guardian.

About 13 percent of the waste was plastic. Of the 262m tonnes, a little over a quarter was recycled, according to EPA.

Compared with all countries, the US performs well on the firm’s recycling index. But it is one of the highest-risk countries in terms of waste generated.

Globally, more than 2.1bn tonnes of municipal waste are generated each year – enough to fill 822,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, the report said. Only 16 percent of that waste is recycled. Humans have made 8.3bn tonnes of plastic since 1950.