Garbage is being generated faster than other pollutants

According to a commentary in the current issue of the journal Nature, a business as usual scenario projects that the rate of generation of garbage on a global scale will almost double by 2025 and will triple by 2100. The paper, with lead author well-respected waste expert Dan Hoornweg, Associate Professor of energy systems at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and former Lead Urban Specialist, Cities and Climate Change at the World Bank, includes the following points:

  • Solid waste management is one of the greatest costs to municipal budgets.
  • The waste problem is acute in emerging country cities.
  • Wealthy societies tend to curb their waste. So as living standards around the world rise and urban populations stabilize, global solid-waste generation will peak.
  • As urbanization increases, global solid-waste generation is accelerating.
  • Solid waste is mostly an urban phenomenon. In rural communities there are fewer packaged products, less food waste and less manufacturing.
  • The member countries of the OECD are the largest waste generators, producing around 1.75 million tonnes per day. This volume is expected to increase until 2050, owing to urban population growth, and then to slowly decline, as advances in material science and technology make products smaller, lighter and more resource efficient.
  • Waste reduction and dematerialization efforts in OECD countries are countered by trends in east Asia, particularly in China. Globally, on the current waste generation pathway, ‘peak waste’ will not occur this century.
  • With lower populations, denser, more resource-efficient cities and less consumption (along with higher affluence), ‘peak waste’ could come forward from sometime after 2100 to 2075 and reduce in intensity by more than 25%. The environmental, economic and social benefits would be enormous.

The full paper, which includes a commentary on tools that may be appropriate to reduce and advance ‘peak waste’, is available at http://www.nature.com/news/environment-waste-production-must-peak-this-century-1.14032 In addition to Hoornweg, the authors include Perinaz Bhada-Tata, a solid-waste consultant in Dubai, and Chris Kennedy, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto.

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