Departments - Industry News

August 2, 2019

US citizens are world's top waste producers, report shows

Two new indices that measure the waste generation and recycling tendencies of 194 countries show that the U.S. is the world’s top waste producer.

The report, produced by United Kingdom-based consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, notes that 2.1 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) are generated throughout the globe annually. Only 16 percent of this waste is recycled.

As part of the company’s Waste Generation Index (WGI) that captures per capita rates of waste production, U.S. citizens were found to produce 1,704 pounds of MSW per person. In total, this accounts for 12 percent of global MSW production while representing only 4 percent of the world’s population.

By contrast, the WGI found that China and India combined account for 36 percent of the world’s population, yet the population of the countries generate only 27 percent of its waste. In relation, U.S. citizens end up producing three times the waste of Chinese individuals and seven times more waste than people living in Ethiopia, the country ranked as the “lowest risk” in the index in terms of waste production.

The countries that are considered the highest risk after the U.S. in terms of waste produced include the Netherlands, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France and Australia.

In the Recycling Index produced by Verisk Maplecroft, the U.S. was found to recycle 35 percent of its MSW. Germany, the most efficient recycling nation according to the index, was shown to recycle 68 percent of MSW.

According to the Verisk Maplecroft report, the U.S. “is the only developed nation whose waste generation outstrips its ability to recycle, underscoring a shortage of political will and investment in infrastructure.”

The consultancy concludes that the U.S., along with other nations, could be poised to introduce new legislation to combat plastic waste as the ramifications of China’s National Sword import ban continue to reverberate both domestically and abroad.

“Beyond the potential financial impacts, the reputational risks for business are high if they ignore intensifying interest in the issue from consumers and investors,” a summary of the report concludes. “Using data from our suite of waste indices, we identify the Netherlands, the U.S. and the U.K. as the most likely countries to pass new regulations on plastic materials that could hit companies in the pocket. But, France, Canada, Australia and Belgium are also flagged as jurisdictions to watch.

“It’s going to be vital for companies to get ahead of these issues. Investing in circular economy measures can not only mitigate risk but can open up new markets and improve brand reputation.”