The world will produce 3.40 billion tonnes of waste by 2050 – a 70% increase from 2.01 billion tonnes of global annual waste produced in 2016, according to World Bank’s recent study, What A Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Waste Management to 2050.
In a separate report by the World Economic Forum, it estimates the weight of plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh the weight of fish by 2050 if things continue as they are.
The World’s Biggest Waste Producers
The East Asia and Pacific region generate most of the world’s waste at 468 million tonnes, or 23% of the globe’s total waste, while the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) (6%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (9%) generate the least waste.
However, although they have the lowest volume of waste produced in 2016, MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa have the fastest growing waste production rates in the world, and by 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to triple its annual waste production of 174 million tonnes, while MENA is projected to double their waste production of 129 million tonnes.
By Income Level
High-income countries make up only 16% of the world’s population, but they generate 34% (683 million tonnes) of the world’s waste. Three high-income countries in North America – the United States, Canada and Bermuda – produce the highest average waste per person at 2.21 kilograms a day.
Low-income countries, on the other hand, account for 9% of the world’s total population and produce about 5% (93 million tonnes) of the world’s waste.
However, high-income countries implement more sustainable waste management practices. For instance, approximately 29% of their waste is recycled and 6% is composted. Another 22% is incinerated and only 2% is dumped openly.
Upper-middle-income countries dispose of their waste in landfills, which are usually the first step towards managing waste sustainably.
In low-income countries, open dumping is still the most common method of waste management. Nearly 93% of waste is burned or dumped in the streets, open lands, and waterways.
Recycling & Resource Recovery: The Catalyst for Economic Growth & Waste Management
With the world’s escalating waste problem, recycling promises to be a sustainable way to manage waste while generating multiple economic opportunities that will benefit local stakeholders.
Recycling reduces the need to harvest raw materials while providing alternative resources at competitive prices. Manufacturers that use recycled materials can potentially cut their production costs by up to 90%, compared with sourcing, refining and processing virgin materials.
Aside from lowering the volume of waste ending up in landfills, reusing materials helps create local job opportunities. The United Nations Environment estimates the shift from a linear economy into a circular one can generate 9 to 25 million new jobs. It added that employment in the waste and resource management industry of pan-European countries doubled to around 2 million jobs over the years 2000 to 2010.
The Worth of Waste
The global waste management market is expected to balloon to US$ 435 billion in 2023 from US$ 285 billion in 2016, according to findings by Allied Market Research.
The market research firm highlighted the industry is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2% from 2017 to 2023, primarily driven by Europe, which is also expected to remain a key industry player throughout the mentioned period.
In a 2010 study, the European Union estimated that their solid waste management and recycling industries had a turnover of €137 billion (approx. US$ 155.4 billion), contributing over 1.1% of the EU’s GDP.
The EU also estimated that materials dumped in landfills could have had an annual commercial value of about €5.25 billion (US$ 5.9 million), and if all Member States recycled 70% of their waste, the industry can generate about 500,000 new jobs across Europe.
In the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, the region is estimated to have a US$ 8 billion market for its annual municipal solid waste production of 125 million tonnes, according to data by UN Environment Program and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
However, at present, only 4% of this potential is being recovered, which is worth about US$ 318.6 million, and about US$ 7.6 billion is lost every year.
In the Asia Pacific, the region’s waste-to-energy market is forecasted to reach US$ 13.66 billion by 2023, with a CAGR of 15.5% from 2018 to 2023, according to a recent report by Research and Markets.
The study cited the increasing amount of residential and industrial wastes in China and India, growing government support for sustainable energy practices in the Asia Pacific, and rising energy demands as the main growth drivers in the region’s waste-to-energy market.
The future of Asia Pacific’s plastic recycling industry, however, is still uncertain, following China’s ban on imported waste resources.
Together with Hong Kong, China used to be the biggest waste importer in the world, hauling in around 60 of% recyclables from G7 countries such as the UK, US, and Japan.
Between 1988 and 2016, China and Hong Kong imported US$ 81 billion worth of plastic waste, according to a study in Science Advances.
With China’s stricter rules on plastic recyclables, developed countries are looking to other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand to fill in the gap left by China, once touted as the world’s recycling hub.
But even if Malaysia and Thailand have increased their waste import, their recycling and processing capacities still cannot rival that of China, and their governments have also started capping the amount of waste being imported into their lands.
Some industry analysts point out that China’s decision could mean local economic opportunities for governments and municipalities across the globe if they treat waste as a valuable resource and increase their local recycling activities.
The recycling industry helps generate jobs, boosts economic growth and can even attract foreign investment opportunities. With a solid infrastructure network, strong supporting policies and streamlined implementation across national and municipality levels, the recycling sector can be a lucrative, long-term and sustainable revenue stream.
Photo credit: © Mali Maeder