World Bank Report Warns Global Solid Waste Could Increase 70 Percent by 2050
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The World Bank released a report predicting that global annual waste generation will increase from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.5 billion tonnes in 2050.

The report estimates that the treatment and disposal of waste contributed to five percent of global emissions in 2016.

It further underscores the importance of solid waste management for sustainable, healthy and inclusive cities and communities, in line with SDG 11.

20 September 2018: The World Bank has released a report that warns that global waste could grow 70 percent by 2050 under a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. The report identifies plastic as a key waste management problem, and provides recommendations for countries to develop and operate solid waste management systems.

The report titled, ‘What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050,’ predicts that global annual waste generation will increase from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.5 billion tonnes in 2050, as nations and cities develop economically, urbanize and increase their populations. According to the report, plastics are “especially problematic.” In 2016, plastics made up 12 percent of all solid waste, an amount that equated to 242 million tonnes of plastic waste. If this waste is not collected and managed properly, it can contaminate and affect ecosystems and waterways for hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years. Approximately 90 percent of marine debris is plastic.

Waste generation also contributes to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The report estimates that the treatment and disposal of waste contributed to 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2016, or five percent of global emissions. The World Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development, Laura Tuck, said mismanagement of waste harms “human health and local environments while adding to the climate challenge.” She noted that the poorest in society are often more “adversely impacted by inadequate waste management” and recommended using and reusing resources to minimize the use of landfills.

The report further underscores the importance of solid waste management for sustainable, healthy and inclusive cities and communities, in line with SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities). However, the report argues, solid waste management is often neglected, particularly in low-income countries where only four percent of waste is recycled. In high-income countries, over one-third of waste is recovered through recycling and composting. The report recommends improving waste management systems as a step towards building a circular economy, where products are designed for reuse and recycling.

The poorest in society are often more adversely impacted by inadequate waste management.

The publication describes global, regional and urban solid waste management trends. High-income countries combined generate 34 percent of the world’s waste, although they only account for 16 percent of the global population. The East Asia and Pacific region generates the most waste, producing 468 million tonnes in 2016, or 23 percent of all waste, including food and green waste and dry recyclables. Europe and Central Asia generated 392 million tonnes of waste in 2016, and about 31 percent of waste materials is currently being recovered through recycling and composting. Latin America and the Caribbean generated 231 million tonnes of waste in 2016, of which 52 percent of municipal waste is food and green waste. The Middle East and North Africa have the lowest total of any region, with 129 million tonnes in 2016, in part due to the region’s lower population. The region’s waste generation is expected to double by 2050. North America generated 289 million tonnes of waste in 2016, the highest average amount of waste. More than 55 percent of the waste in North America is recyclables, including cardboard, paper, glass, metal and plastic. Sub-Saharan Africa generated 174 million tonnes of waste in 2016. By 2030, waste generation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is expected to at least triple and double, respectively.

Low-income countries collect only about half of the waste generated in cities and one-quarter of the waste generated in rural areas. In addition, over 90 percent of waste is mismanaged by being either burned or openly dumped. Consequently, the report stresses significant opportunity to implement improved waste management systems in these countries.

The report highlights a number of solutions for countries to develop and operate solid waste management systems, and showcases case studies that illustrate how countries and local governments have improved their waste management. For example, providing financing to countries most in need, particularly fast growing countries, can enable them to develop high-quality waste management systems. To reduce plastic consumption and marine litter, the report recommends supporting waste producing countries through comprehensive waste reduction and recycling programmes. To reduce food waste, the report suggests coordinated food waste management programmes, consumer education and organics management.

A related database provides information on 217 countries and economies and over 360 cities. The Government of Japan provided funding for the report through the World Bank’s Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC). [Publication: What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050] [Publication Landing Page] [World Bank Press Release] [Waste Infographic] [Blog Post on Waste]

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