Waste pollution as an issue is massively wide ranging, and can be difficult to fully measure.
It involves looking at waste generation and waste management (which involves collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste together with monitoring and regulation) of all the different types of natural and man made waste.
Although there are many different types of waste, there are still key ways we can track different key wastes and the issues and impacts relating to them.
In this guide we look at the types of waste, what waste pollution is, causes, sources of waste, effects of waste pollution, and potential solutions.
(Note – you can read specifically about plastic waste pollution in this guide)
Waste Pollution – Summary
- There’s many different types of waste, and each country, state and city/town (or region) faces a different picture when it comes to waste generation, waste management, and the waste lifecycle
- Waste can be categorized by municipal waste, and industrial waste (which includes commercial waste)
- Waste can also be categorized by sector, by type, by material and many types of specific or specialised waste
- Municipal and household waste is generally far easier to track and report than industrial waste, and as a society, it’s estimated industrial waste far outweighs municipal waste amounts per year (some numbers indicate municipal waste only makes up around 3% of total waste, compared to industrial at 97%)
- In general, it can be difficult to accurately track and report waste in a lot of countries for various reasons
- Paper, food, yard trimmings, plastics, metals, wood and textiles tend to be the most common municipal waste according to EPA numbers
- The most common industrial waste according to some sources are construction, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, households, waste treatment, services and energy supply
- Although some waste might be far less common in terms of quantity, some waste are highly hazardous and have potential for a lot of damage – so quantity of uncontained waste, as well as the damage of each type of waste should be reported or measured (poorly treated or contained radioactive waste is one example)
- With plastic in particular, there’s different types of plastic – single use plastic packaging can be wasted at a far high rate than say some construction plastics which can be used for years or decades
- The most common waste found in oceans according to some sources are cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, straws and stirrers, plastic bags, grocery bags, glass beverage bottles, beverage cans, and plastic cups and plates. Plastics found in fishing nets and lines also make up a % of ocean plastic waste and general waste
- Some of the main waste disposal or management options are landfill, recycling and incineration (pyrolysis and gasification are examples of other waste management processes that involve heat), with compost being another
- Developed countries produce the most waste, but tend to manage and contain it better than developing, or low to middle income countries
- Waste pollution occurs for various reasons, including but not limited to over-consumption, a complete lack of waste management systems in low to middle income countries, poorly contained or ineffective waste management systems, not recycling or composting enough, wasting too much food at the consumer stage, a lack of cold storage for food in poorer regions in the world, littering, improper disposal or sorting of waste by residents and businesses or the industrial sector, and using the wrong waste disposal method or a less eco friendly/sustainable disposal method for a particular type of waste
- We can reduce waste pollution via reducing our waste, re-using and repairing items we throw out, recycling, upgrading and improving the effectiveness of waste management and containment systems especially in low to middle income countries, having harsher penalties for littering and improper disposal of waste, having a strong focus on industrial waste and the proper disposal and management of industrial waste, and becoming really clear as a society on the types of waste we should be producing and the best ways to dispose of or manage that waste
- It makes sense that the most significant positive results seen in waste pollution worldwide might be to reduce waste/have a more circular economy, improve effectiveness and containment of low to middle income countries’ waste management systems, focus heavily on getting industrial waste management systems and disposal right and reporting on them more clearly (as they make up such a large % of overall waste, and becoming very clear in each city what the best overall waste management option is for each type of material (landfill, recycling, incineration, compost or other)
- Waste management systems tend to be specific to a city i.e. San Francisco’s waste management system is very different to a waste management system in New Delhi for example
- Overall, some questions each city might ask themselves about waste management are which sectors produce the most waste, which materials are most common, what are the most damaging wastes, and what are the social, economic, and environmental consequences of pursuing different waste management options
- Waste management is very important for a city to get right – each national, state and local government must work with private or commercial waste management companies to come up with long term waste management solutions and strategies that suit them across all areas of society (environmental, economic, social, technological and so on).
What Is Waste?
Waste (or wastes) are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use, or is worthless, defective and of no use.
Types Of Waste
Waste can be categorised in many different ways.
The main two are Municipal Waste – which is essentially waste that comes from our households (food, paper, plastic, yard trimmings etc.). The municipalities are responsible for collection and disposal of municipal waste.
And, Industrial Waste – which is waste from businesses, factories, farms etc. that never reaches the consumer or household level.
Examples are mining (rubble, topsoil), agriculture (fertilisers, pesticides, animal waste), food processing (plastics, paper, food waste), textiles, metal manufacture, and construction and demolition wastes (plasterboard, bricks, concrete etc.).
Usually, licensed waste disposal companies (through EPA approved waste disposal programs for example in the USA) are responsible for collecting and disposing of waste from companies.
You can read more about industrial waste on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_waste, and https://www.kamtecs.co.jp/en/disposal/about.html.
Other ways waste might be categorised (apart from municipal and industrial) are:
- By Sector – mining, agriculture, manufacturing, municipal etc.
- By Type – liquid, solid, organic, recyclable and hazardous (according to 4waste.com.au/)
- Material – plastic, paper, e waste, chemicals etc.
Note though that different authorities and organisations count and report different types of waste.
So, always look at what specific waste materials and waste types of waste report is including to get an idea of how broad or narrow the stats are.
For example, if you look at the Australian National Waste Report prepared by Blue Environment for the Department of Environment and Energy, their scope of reporting includes:
- The report covers waste generated in Australia, including solid non-hazardous materials and all hazardous wastes including liquids (an accompanying report, Hazardous Waste in Australia 20172 , considers hazardous waste in detail).
- The report excludes waste from primary production activities (agriculture, mining and forestry), waste that is reused (such as in ‘tip shops’), pre-consumer waste that is recycled as part of a production process, and clean fill/soil (whether or not it is sent to landfill).
- Waste sources are considered in three streams: municipal solid waste (MSW) from households and council operations; commercial and industrial (C&I) waste; and construction and demolition (C&D) waste.
A further list of specific wastes to be aware of are:
- Agricultural waste
- Animal by-products
- Biodegradable waste
- Biomedical waste
- Bulky waste
- Business waste
- Chemical waste
- Clinical waste
- Coffee wastewater
- Commercial waste
- Composite waste
- Construction and demolition waste (C&D waste)
- Consumable waste
- Controlled waste
- Demolition waste
- Dog waste
- Domestic waste
- Electronic waste (e-waste)
- Food waste
- Gaseous wastes
- Green waste
- Grey water
- Hazardous waste
- Household waste
- Household hazardous waste
- Human waste
- Industrial waste
- Inert waste
- Inorganic waste
- Kitchen waste
- Liquid waste
- Marine debris
- Medical waste
- Metabolic waste
- Mineral waste
- Mixed waste
- Municipal solid waste
- Nuclear waste (see Radioactive waste)
- Organic waste
- Packaging waste
- Post-consumer waste
- Radioactive waste
- Low level waste
- High level waste
- Mixed waste (radioactive/hazardous)
- Spent nuclear fuel
- Recyclable waste
- Residual waste
- Retail hazardous waste
- Sharps waste
- Ship disposal
- Slaughterhouse waste
- Special waste – see hazardous waste
Domestic/Municipal Waste vs Industrial Waste
While the U.S. produces around 236 million tons of municipal solid waste every year, the numbers for industrial waste are far less clear.
Some estimates [for industrial waste] go as high as 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste produced every year.
It’s important to note that most reported waste stats out there are municipal waste only (such as the numbers you see in the EPA MSW report).
The reason for this is that it’s very difficult to track and report industrial waste simply because it comes from so many sources, is so varied and spread out, and there is no one system to catch, process and report all this waste.
Based on the above numbers, municipal waste (household waste) may only male up 3% of total waste, compared to industrial waste at around 97% of total waste.
Discardstudies.com has a good article on the 97-3% municipal vs industrial ratio at https://discardstudies.com/2016/03/02/municipal-versus-industrial-waste-a-3-97-ratio-or-something-else-entirely/
Other sources that write about industrial waste (and commercial waste) are:
- https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics – plastic generation by the industrial sector
Problems With Reporting & Estimating Waste
There are many issues that surround reporting waste in general, and from country to country.
It is most commonly measured by size or weight, and there is a stark difference between the two. For example, organic waste is much heavier when it is wet, and plastic or glass bottles can have different weights but be the same size.
On a global scale it is difficult to report waste because countries have different definitions of waste and what falls into waste categories, as well as different ways of reporting.
Based on incomplete reports from its parties, the Basel Convention estimated 338 million tonnes of waste was generated in 2001.
For the same year, OECD estimated 4 billion tonnes from its member countries. Despite these inconsistencies, waste reporting is still useful on a small and large scale to determine key causes and locations, and to find ways of preventing, minimizing, recovering, treating, and disposing waste.
What Is Waste Pollution?
Waste pollution is when waste (mainly human generated waste) harms or affects humans, animals, the natural environment (by soil contamination, air pollution, water pollution etc.), the economy, or has some other form of social consequence (even as far as disrupting aesthetics).
Waste pollution differs from country to country, and from state to state.
Causes Of Waste Pollution
There can be several causes of waste pollution. Just a fe of the main causes might be:
- We use too much and don’t reduce, re-use and recycle enough as countries and societies
- No one waste disposal method is perfect – all three of recycling, landfill and incineration have their environmental and social drawbacks
- Not enough municipal and industrial waste is recycled and re-used
- Littering – dropping plastic on the ground where it can be picked up or swallowed by animals, or blow into water sources
- Inadequate disposal of waste – disposing of waste in the wrong way, not sorting wastes properly
- Not treating and disposing of hazardous and toxic wastes properly – like pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, solvents, medical and biological wastes etc.
- Disposing of waste to an unsecured landfill site where it can be carried away by wind or water or animals
- Burning waste and producing harmful gases
- The waste itself producing methane, leachate or other forms of pollution by decomposition or by sitting in a landfill
- Moving of waste from developed nations to developing nations, or between countries in general, and affecting the humans, animals or environment in the receiving country
Sources Of Waste Pollution
There’s a number of ways sources of pollution could be defined or categorised.
But, sources could be divided into the overall waste sector (municipal, or industrial), and then looking at the industries or waste types or waste products that contribute the highest quantity or highest share of waste.
A few examples of sources might be:
Most common Municipal Solid Waste generated in 2015 was:
- Paper and paperboard – 25.9%
- Food – 15.1%
- Yard Trimmings – 13.2%
- Plastics – 13.1%
- Metals – 9.1%
- Wood – 6.2%
- Textiles – 6.1%
- Glass – 4.4%
- Rubber and Leather – 3.2%
- Other – 2.0%
- Miscellaneous Inorganic Waste – 1.5%
The total generation of municipal solid waste in 2015 was 262.4 million tons (U.S. short tons, unless specified) of MSW in 2015, approximately 3.5 million tons more than the amount generated in 2014. MSW generated in 2015 increased to 4.48 pounds per person per day. This is an increase from the 259 million tons generated in 2014 and the 208.3 million tons in 1990.
In 2009, the City of Chicago had the following split:
- Paper – 29.5%
- Organics – 29%
- Plastic – 12.5%
- Private Construction & Demolition – 12%
- Textiles – 6.2%
- Glass – 4.9%
- Metals – 3.9%
- Inorganics – 1.1%
- Water Bottles & Coated Milk Cartons – 0.8%
Industrial waste is hard to measure and report. But, there are some sources that report industrial waste:
Waste generation in EU-28 in 2012 by sector was:
- Construction – 33%
- Mining & Quarrying – 29%
- Manufacturing – 11%
- Households – 8%
- Waste Treatment – 7%
- Services – 5%
- Energy Supply – 4%
- Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing – 2%
- Wholesale Of Waste & Scrap – 1%
- Water Treatment – 1%
Estimated Total Annual Waste by Sector in the UK in 2004 was:
- Construction & Demolition – 31.7%
- Mining & Quarrying – 28.8%
- Industrial – 12.5%
- Commercial – 12.3%
- Household – 9.5%
- Dredged Materials – 4.7%
- Sewage Sludge – 0.6%
- Agriculture (inc. Fishing) – 0.2%
In 2009, the City of Chicago generated the following %’s of waste from these sectors:
- Construction & Demolition Debris – 59%
- Private Industrial, Commercial, Institutional & Multi Unit Residential – 26%
- Residential With 4 Units Or Less – 15%
In 2008, total waste generation in the EU-27 by sector was
- Construction – 32.9%
- Mining – 27.8%
- Manufacturing – 13.1%
- Household – 8.5%
- Waste & Water Management – 7.3%
- Other Sectors – 5.3%
- Energy Sector – 3.5%
- Agriculture/Forestry – 1.7%
In 2008, total waste generation in the EU-27 by type of waste/waste material was:
- Mineral Waste/Soils – 65%
- Household Wastes – 7.7%
- Other Wastes – 6.5%
- Combustion Wastes – 6%
- Animal and Vegetable Waste – 4.4%
- Metallic Wastes – 3.8%
- Wood Wastes – 2.6%
- Paper and Cardboard Wastes – 2.2%
- Sorting Residues – 1.7%
In 2015-15, Australia produced the equivalent of:
- 565 kg per capita of municipal waste,
- 831 kg of construction and demolition waste,
- 459 kg of fly ash,
- and 849 kg of other commercial and industrial waste.
The EPA in Ireland also keeps stats on municipal, packaging, electrical and electronic equipment, end of life vehicles, tyres, hazardous materials, composting and anaerobic waste, construction and demolition, waste infrastructure and generation and treatment
Most Common Rubbish Found In The Oceans
Note that not all waste ends up in landfills, incineration, recycling or composting.
Some of it ends up in the ocean. Waste generated 50km or less from the coat line is most likely to end up in the ocean.
The most common items collected in ocean clean ups are (according to general reporting):
- Cigarette Butts – 2,248,065
- Food Wrappers (candy, chips, chocolate etc) – 1,376,133
- Plastic Beverage Bottles – 988,965
- Plastic Bottle Caps – 811,871
- Straws & Stirrers – 519,911
- Other Plastic Bags – 489,968
- Grocery Bags (Plastic) – 485,204
- Glass Beverage Bottles – 396,121
- Beverage Cans – 382,608
- Plastic Cups & Plates – 376,479
Trash, packaging, and improperly disposed waste from sources on land accounts for 80% of the marine debris found on beaches during cleanups and surveys.
Furthermore, one-third to two-thirds of the debris we catalog on beaches comes from single-use, disposable plastic packaging from food and beverage-related goods and services (things like plastic cups, bottles, straws, utensils, and stirrers).
The other 20% (one-fifth) of items making up marine debris are attributed to at-sea losses from accidental or deliberate discharges from ocean-going vessels, and from lost or abandoned fishing gear and traps.
- Overall, not all waste is disposed of adequately – littering and mismanaged waste still occurs
- Not all waste, particularly industrial waste is recycled when it should be
- The main forms of waste disposal are recycling, landfill and incineration (with energy capture). Composting is another form of waste disposal, although more minor at this stage.
- Household waste is usually collected by municipalities
- Industrial waste is usually collected by licensed waste contractors (usually licensed or approved as part of a program by a country’s or states’ EPA or environmental government agency)
- Hazardous waste, toxic waste and other specific wastes have to be treated and disposed of in different ways to general solid waste
When we talk about waste management or waste disposal, we are talking about all the activities and actions required to manage waste from its inception to its final disposal. This includes amongst other things collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste together with monitoring and regulation. It also encompasses the legal and regulatory framework that relates to waste management encompassing guidance on recycling.
In 2015, these are the disposal stats for Municipal Solid Waste in the US:
- 52.5% went to Landfill
- 25.8% went to recycling
- 12.8% went to Combustion with Energy Recovery
- and 8.9% went to Composting
In 2014-15, Australia had the following waste stats:
- 64 Megatonnes of waste generated
- 35 Megatonnes went to recycling
- 27 Megatonnes went to landfill
- 2.3 Megatonnes went to energy recovery, which is burning waste and capturing the gas energy
Specifically for global plastic waste disposal:
- In 2015, an estimated 55 percent of global plastic waste was discarded, 25 percent was incinerated, and 20 percent recycled.
- If we extrapolate historical trends through to 2050 — by 2050, incineration rates would increase to 50 percent; recycling to 44 percent; and discarded waste would fall to 6 percent. However, note that this is based on the simplistic extrapolation of historic trends and does not represent concrete projections.
Sources that talk specifically about industrial waste management include:
Waste By Country
When looking at waste by country, it’s important to look at:
- Total waste
- Waste per capita
- And then what happens with that waste – is it recycled, or dumped, or incinerated? How much waste pollution occurs via waste generation in that country?
All countries have different waste stats and behavior patterns, and even ways of reporting their waste statistics.
Developing vs Developed Countries
- Developed countries produce more waste per capita because they have higher levels of consumption. There are higher proportions of plastics, metals, and paper in the municipal solid waste stream and there are higher labour costs. As countries continue developing, there is a reduction in biological solid waste and ash. Per capita waste generation in OECD countries has increased by 14% since 1990, and 35% since 1980. Waste generation generally grows at a rate slightly lower than GDP in these countries. Developed countries consume more than 60% of the world industrial raw materials and only comprise 22% of the world’s population. As a nation, Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world with 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) of municipal solid waste (MSW) per person per day, fifty five percent of which is contributed as residential garbage.
- Developing nations produce lower levels of waste per capita with a higher proportion of organic material in the municipal solid waste stream. If measured by weight, organic (biodegradable) residue constitutes at least 50% of waste in developing countries. Labour costs are relatively low but waste management is generally a higher proportion of municipal expenditure. As urbanization continues, municipal solid waste grows faster than urban populations because of increasing consumption and shortening product life spans.
- Compared to those in developed nations, residents in developing countries, especially the urban poor, are more severely impacted by unsustainably managed waste. In low and middle-income countries, waste is often disposed in unregulated dumps or openly burned. These practices create serious health, safety, and environmental consequences. Poorly managed waste serves as a breeding ground for disease vectors, contributes to global climate change through methane generation, and even promotes urban violence.
- Managing waste properly is essential for building sustainable and livable cities, but it remains a challenge for many developing countries and cities. Effective waste management is expensive, often comprising 20%–50% of municipal budgets. Operating this essential municipal service requires integrated systems that are efficient, sustainable, and socially supported.
Waste By Country
OECD countries (the most developed countries in the world, produce a lot of the waste int he world.
These are 2013 figures of municipal waste generation per capita in some of the top waste generating countries in the OECD group:
- Denmark – 751kg (per person)
- United States – 725kg
- Switzerland – 712kg
- Australia – 647kg
- Germany – 614kg
- Ireland – 587kg
- France – 530kg
- Netherlands – 525kg
- United Kingdom – 494kg
- Italy – 484kg
- Spain – 455kg
- Turkey – 407kg
- Canada – 403kg
- South Korea – 358kg
- Japan – 354kg
– Forbes.com, and cmaecocycle.net
You can see a full world map showing waste per capita levels by country at http://www.eco2greetings.com/c/most-wasteful-countries/
You can see a description of some of this information at https://waste-management-world.com/a/interactive-map-worlds-most-wasteful-countries.
Some of what they said is:
The top producers of waste are said to be small and island nations including:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- Sri Lanka
According to eC02 Greetings, in places such as Antigua, Barbados and St. Kitts, a large majority of waste is accumulated due to tourism. It added that of these countries do not have the necessary infrastructure for proper sanitation and waste removal.
The top producers in the developed world were said to be:
- New Zealand
- United States
Waste By Region
Waste generation by region %’s are:
- OECD region – 44%
- East Asia & The Pacific – 21%
- Latin America & The Caribbean – 12%
- Eastern & Central Asia – 7%
- Middle East & North Africa – 6%
- South Asia – 5%
- Africa – 5%
Overall, Worldbank found:
- MSW (municipal solid waste) generation levels are expected to double by 2025 (due to population growth)
- The higher the income level and rate of urbanization, the greater the amount of solid waste produced.
- OECD countries produce almost half of the world’s waste, while Africa and South Asia regions produce the least waste.
You can read more in Worldbank’s Waste Generation chapter of their knowledge paper at https://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTURBANDEVELOPMENT/Resources/336387-1334852610766/Chap3.pdf
Exporting & Importing Of Waste
Waste is shipped between countries for disposal and this can create problems in the target country.
As an example, electronic waste is commonly shipped to developing countries for recycling, reuse or disposal. The Basel Convention is a Multilateral Environmental Agreement to prevent problematic waste disposal in countries that have weaker environmental protection laws. The Convention has not prevented the formation of e-waste villages.
Developing countries can suffer environmentally, but also their people and wildlife can suffer from importing waste.
China is an example of a country that used to accept a lot of the world’s waste and plastic, but has recently put in place import bans to stop some or most of the plastic importation.
Effects Of Waste Pollution (& Problems)
The effects of waste generation and ultimately waste disposal are extremely wide ranging.
Waste can have the following main effects:
- Environmental – land, water and air (troposphere and atmosphere)
- Humans – health and mortality
- Economy – cost, poverty
- Wildlife – health and mortality
Different wastes will have different levels of impact, for example:
- Hazardous and toxic waste can be extremely damaging based on contact or leaching or seeping (e waste, chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides etc.)
- A more common waste like plastic might not be as damaging to touch, but can be devastating via ingestion and entanglement for example
You can read a full breakdown of the pros and cons of each waste disposal method – recycling, landfill and incineration at https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics
Waste generally affects developing countries significantly as they may not have the finances to maintain waste management facilities, and the poorest people have to live among the and near the waste pollution.
Other effects and impact of waste include:
- Attracts rodents, parasites, diseases and bacteria
- Expose animals and humans to hazardous materials – can cause cancer for example
- Can pollute water
- Can contaminate soil via leachate and hazardous waste
- Can pollute air with methane, and contribute to climate change and global warming
- Toxic waste materials can contaminate surface water, groundwater, soil, and air which causes more problems for humans, other species, and ecosystems.
- Developing nations who can’t afford properly managed and secured waste disposal facilities suffer – the poor who live near the dumping sites, or who have no dumping sites, have to live in the waste
- The economic costs of managing waste are high, and are often paid for by municipal governments
- Man-made wastes are more hazardous to the environment. Cell phone, for instance are made of lead, mercury and plastic and so many millions of them get thrown as garbage. This kind of electronic garbage creates environmental problems.
- E waste is an issue such as the harmful effects of the fire retardant being used to protect PCs and electronic appliances against fire.
- mercury will leach when certain electronic devices, such as circuit breakers are destroyed.
- Batteries are an environmental hazard. The acid leaches not only into the soil but also goes into the ground water. Disposing of them also creates their own problems as the lead is likely to remain in the ash and be released in the air.
- Chemicals contaminating soil – When waste ends up at the landfill, chemicals in the trash can leech out into the soil, contaminating it. This will hurt plants, along with animals and even humans who come into contact with the soil. Once polluted, contaminated soil can be very hard to clean, and will likely have to be dug up to clear the area.
- Surface water – Chemicals don’t just run from garbage into the soil. They can also reach nearby surface water, such as rivers and lakes. This will change the levels of chemicals in the water for the worse. The result? The ecosystems such as fish habitats in the water get hurt, as do any creatures that drink from the water source
- Air pollution – Garbage can create air pollution due to gasses and chemicals evaporating from the waste. This air pollution can occur in open-air dumps, where a lot of our waste and electronic trash goes, and through incinerators used at garbage disposal sites. The air pollution from incineration can be so bad, in fact, that it can even release toxic substances that can contribute to acid rain. Other garbage will release methane as it wastes away, and methane is one of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming – and can also be ignited to cause an explosion.
- Pollution – If a landfill site is not properly sealed, a toxic pollutant known as leachate can escape into the surrounding groundwater causing environmental problems for plants and animals living downstream. Leachate is a liquid pollutant caused by waste breaking down that contains high levels of heavy metals, chemical compounds, pesticides and solvents which filter down into the bottom of a landfill site. Many modern landfills created today have a sealed barrier to prevent liquid pollution from entering groundwater, however the growing level of waste generation can increase the risk of leachate pollution.
- Litter – Lightweight materials like plastic bags and film (such as lolly/chip wrappers) can easily be dispersed from rubbish bins and landfill into the surrounding environment by the wind and rain. Much of this lightweight material presents a range of hazards for wildlife and domestic animals who can become entangled or choke if they accidentally mistake litter for food. The chemical composition of plastic means that it takes a substantial period of time to break down in the environment, and is capable of travelling long distances without decomposing. Around 80% of plastic litter found in the ocean has travelled there from inland waterways. Oceanic currents have directed much of this material to a litter-made island in the mid Atlantic Ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Items as large as computer monitors and tyres, as well as plastic twine, bottles and other material have been found here from across the world.
- Loss of biodiversity – Demand for new landfill sites results in the clearing of large amounts of vegetation and alterations to the natural environment. This can displace hundreds and thousands of species (both plants and animals) which live in the surrounding habitat. Over time, excessive land clearing can result in the extinction of many of these species, and a significant loss of biodiversity.
- Pests – Once the natural habitat has been removed by land clearing, many native species may no longer be able to compete with non-native species such as weeds, vermin, flies and rats. Unlike native species, these pests can often live on a vast variety of food sources and are better adapted to live on these landfill sites. As a result, foreign species such as rats, ibis, feral cats and dogs thrive in landfill areas on rotting food sources.
- Waste products create air, water and soil pollution/contamination
- Economic – a lot of money is spent to counter the effects of improper waste management and waste management in general
- Oil spills create water pollution
- Leaching of chemicals into soil and water creates pollution
- Burning of any disposed waste and plastic materials results in air and environmental pollution.
- Though we all are familiar with common methods of waste management like landfills, incineration, recycling, biological processing or energy conservation; we find ourselves living in a world filled with waste. Renewable energy and recycling took us to newer heights, but the adverse effects of improper waste management continue to plague us.
- Waste management and soil contamination – contamination results when hazardous substances are spilled or buried in the soil. It can also occur when pollutants settle on the soil, such as chemicals or industrial smokestack. Plants in contaminated soil absorb hazardous substances. Humans or animals ingest these plants and may get sick. They can also inhale soil contaminants through dust that is present in the air or absorb these hazardous chemicals through their skin.
- Water pollution, especially groundwater – heavy metal, pesticides, nitrates, petro chemicals, chlorinated solvents all have ability to seep into soil and ground water and rivers and lakes. Crops can absorb toxic chemicals. Soil fertility can decrease and crop yield can decrease. Fluoride, arsenic and salts can also seep into lakes. 97% of the world’s freshwater is in auqifers/groundwater. 1.5 billion people worldwide rely on groundwater for drinking water. Groundwater is also used for irrigation and even to makes bottled water.
- Plastic water bottles eventually break down to release a harmful component called, DIETHYLHYDROXYLAMINE (DEHA). (A carcinogen which hurts our reproductive capabilities, causes liver dysfunction and weight loss issues.)
- DEHA seeps into the surrounding areas of the soil and water bodies to harm the animal and plant life depends on it.
- Water easily absorbs chemicals and toxic substances in rainfall, air, soil and other water sources. This damages the water source, animals and humans
- greenhouse gases are created from decomposing waste which contribute to climate change. How else are we impacted? Well, apart from temperature what is also drastically affected is the level of precipitation in the air. From acid rain to severe hail storms or global warming – everything is fair game at present. This also spreads out into other areas with regards to subdivisions such as thermal and radioactive pollution.
- Incineration and landfill both create harmful gases.
- continual dumping of garbage, raw or untreated sewage. Any animal or marine life coming in contact gets impacted in the worst of ways. The inevitable formation of algal bloom and clusters contaminates and eventually suffocates marine life such as coral and fish.
- consumption of fishing lines, cigarette butts, plastic bottles and Styrofoam can kill millions of marine lives each year.
- Waste is dumped into the ground, Absorbed by the soil and groundwater, Waste contaminates the land on which we grow food and provides water for us and animals, Waste in the marine life kills fish, Carcasses float on the surface, and we see mosquitoes feed on it, The diseases carrying mosquitoes now spread sickness and death among the living population
- People who live near landfills, waste disposal workers and people who come into contact with hazardous waste at manufacturing plants and on farms are at risk
- Think about the fires at landfills and its effects on us. Whether coming from the air or its accumulation in our cellars, those landfill gases have been exposed for causing cancer, create respiratory and visibility problems, and the explosion of cans put people nearby at constant risk.
- Additionally, when we come in contact with waste, it causes skin irritation and blood infections. We also contract diseases from flies which are carriers of illnesses after breeding on solid waste. With regards to mosquitoes, we know, besides feeding on dead fish, they find sewage, rainwater, tires, cans and other objects to be ideal breeding grounds. They carry and spread diseases such as malaria and dengue. With an abundance of disease-carrying pests, it becomes difficult to be vigilant about waste management facilities. Despite all efforts, for example, rats continue their massive infestation on such facilities and sewage systems. They harm crops, spread diseases such as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Leptospirosis, Rat-bite Fever and Salmonellosis. Waste management is our responsibility for we benefit and suffer from it in radical ways. Education and awareness across all communities, irrespective of their social, economic condition, must be ever-present for as long as life inhabits this planet. A butterfly fluttering its wings 900 miles away from you can cause a hurricane right where you live. Therefore, significant mismanagement of waste by Turkey and Chile, where only 1% of waste was reported to be recycled, can contribute to global warming. Even if you live far away in Greenland, there is no escape. We must all play a role.
Other resources on problems and effects of waste pollution are:
Trends & Stats On Waste Generation & Disposal
You can find more MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) waste generation trends at:
You can find more MSW waste disposal trends at:
You can find plastic disposal trends at:
You can find Australia’s waste trends in:
You can find more on industrial waste trends at:
More stats and trends on waste are available at:
Forecast For Waste Generation
Population growth, urban expansion and other factors look to increase waste generation rates in the future. However, variables such as waste reduction efforts, hitting peak population and population decline, and other variables may impact the rate of waste generation going into the future.
- Around the world, waste generation rates are rising. In 2012, the world’s cities generated 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year, amounting to a footprint of 1.2 kilograms per person per day. With rapid population growth and urbanization, municipal waste generation is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.
- Solid waste generation rates are rising fast, on pace to exceed 11 million tonnes per day by 2100. That growth will eventually peak and begin to decline in different regions at different times, depending in part on population growth, waste reduction efforts, and changes in consumption. Until that happens, the rising amount of waste means rising costs for governments and environmental pressures.
A guide on how hazardous waste affects the environment can be found at:
Solutions To Waste Pollution
Just a few of the key ways to address waste pollution might be:
- Better waste management facilities, and secured waste disposal and treatment – particularly in low to middle income countries. This may significantly reduce the amount of waste escaping uncontained and open landfills for example.
- Be more efficient and produce less waste in developing countries – look at consumption patterns, reduce consumption, and look at ways for businesses and producers to address wastage rates (re-designs and changing processes could be key here)
- Put emphasis and on educating the public and businesses about and implementing reduce, re-use, recycle, and other key principles that deal with minimising waste, using materials and resources more efficiently, and proper waste management
Other solutions may include …
- Money can often be saved with more efficiently designed collection routes, modifying vehicles, and with public education. Environmental policies such as pay as you throw can reduce the cost of management and reduce waste quantities. Waste recovery (that is, recycling, reuse) can curb economic costs because it avoids extracting raw materials and often cuts transportation costs
- Separate and sort – separating and sorting out recyclable materials like paper, cardboard, metals and wood after receiving a delivery. Transporting, recycling, treating, and disposing of hazardous waste properly
- Land is a precious commodity and by reducing the amount of waste we produce, reusing items more than once and recycling items correctly we can avoid the creation of more landfill sites and help maintain our unique environment. By recycling and removing all food and garden waste from our red-lidded general waste bin, landfill sites can be maintained for longer, helping to reduce biodiversity loss, save valuable space and reduce the amount of pests in our ecosystems
- Ideally, we would like our plastic, glass, metal and paper waste to end up at a recycling facility. It then returns to us as a renewable product.
How different countries are trying to improve waste can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4620041.stm
- Refuse – if you don’t really need it, don’t buy it. Or decline unnecessary carry bags.
- Reduce – buy less and buy smarter. For example, Australians throw away about 30% of the food they purchase.
- Reuse – take reusable bags when you go shopping or reuse ‘disposable’ bags.
- Repair – don’t toss it, fix it. You may even save some money.
- Repurpose – give an old item a new purpose and a new lease on life.
- Resell (or donate) – if you no longer need it, someone else might have a use for it.
- Recycle – when it finally fails and there is no other option, make sure it is recycled.
- Rebuy – look for items that contain recycled materials to keep the system working.
- Find ways to recycle more – currently, the U.S. recycles about 30% of its waste stream, even though the EPA estimates that up to 75% of our waste stream is recyclable. Only 1% of all plastic products in the United States are recycled every year, as are only 1% of all aluminum products. There are many benefits to recycling
- Paper and cardboard – Paper and cardboard make up the majority of industrial waste products. This means that the average company can make a big impact simply by establishing a paper and cardboard recycling program. Businesses can have a huge impact on the environment, on our energy dependence, and on their own bottom line by taking steps to recycle more and landfill less. One of the simplest places to start is with a strong cardboard recycling program, as this is a valuable commodity that is easy to move.
According to Worldbank:
The World Bank finances and advises on solid waste management projects using a diverse suite of products and services, including traditional loans, results-based financing, development policy financing, and technical advisory.
World Bank-financed waste management projects address the entire lifecycle of waste—from generation to collection and transportation, and finally treatment and disposal.
Objectives that guide the Bank’s solid waste management projects and investments include:
- Infrastructure: The World Bank provides capital investments to build or upgrade waste sorting and treatment facilities, close dumps, construct or refurbish landfills, and provide bins, dumpsters, trucks, and transfer stations.
- Legal structures and institutions: Projects advise on sound policy measures and coordinated institutions for the municipal waste management sector.
- Financial sustainability: Through the design of taxes and fee structures, and long-term planning, projects help governments improve waste cost containment and recovery.
- Citizen engagement: Behavior change and public participation is key to a functional waste system. The World Bank supports designing incentives and awareness systems to motivate waste reduction, source-separation and reuse.
- Social inclusion: Resource recovery in most developing countries relies heavily on informal workers, who collect, sort, and recycle 15%–20% of generated waste. Projects address waste picker livelihoods through strategies such as integration into the formal system, as well as the provision of safe working conditions, social safety nets, child labor restrictions, and education.
- Climate change and the environment: Projects promote environmentally sound waste disposal. They support greenhouse gas mitigation through food loss and waste reduction, organic waste diversion, and the adoption of disposal technologies that capture biogas and landfill gas. Waste projects also support resilience by reducing waste disposal in waterways and safeguarding infrastructure against flooding.
- Health and safety: The World Bank’s work in municipal waste management improves public health and livelihoods by reducing open burning, mitigating pest and disease vector spread, and preventing crime and violence.
- Knowledge creation: The World Bank helps governments plan and explore locally appropriate solutions through technical expertise, and data and analytics.
The World Bank’s waste management engagement spans multiple development areas, including energy, environmental sustainability, food and agriculture, health and population, social protection, transportation, urban development, and water.
The World Bank has also documented the results of these solutions they have implemented
The 2100 forecast above in this guide is based on current rates of generation and disposal and consumption.
But that forecast can change:
“With lower populations, denser, more resource-efficient cities, and less consumption (along with higher affluence), the peak could come forward to 2075 and reduce in intensity by more than 25 percent. This would save around 2.6 million tonnes per day,” Hoornweg and his colleagues write.
Some cities are already setting positive examples for waste reduction. San Francisco, for example, has an ambitious goal of “zero waste” by 2020 with aggressive recycling. About 55 percent of its waste is recycled or reused today. Industries in Kawasaki, Japan, divert 565,000 tonnes of potential waste per year – exceeding the city’s current municipal waste levels.
Other tactics cities can embrace include:
- Reducing food waste with better storage and transportation systems, which can both help lower trash levels and help feed a growing world population.
- Construction strategies that reuse materials, saving trees and the energy that goes into developing other building materials and reducing waste.
- Policies such as disposal fees and recycling programs that encourage less waste.
“The planet is already straining from the impacts of today’s waste and we are on a path to more than triple quantities,” the authors write. “Through a move towards stable or declining populations, denser and better-managed cities consuming fewer resources, and greater equity and use of technology, we can bring peak waste forward and down. The environmental, economic and social benefits would be enormous.”
More resources on potential solutions are:
- https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/your-environment/recycling-and-reuse/business-government-recycling/reducing-business-waste (good resource on reducing business waste)
Other Areas Of Waste Generation & Pollution To Be Aware Of
The extent of waste and it’s impact is almost limitless. Just a FEW of the further points to be aware of might be (but there are many more):
- Which sectors and waste materials produce the most waste that goes straight to landfill and can’t be re-used or recycled
- What the most damaging wastes are (hazardous and toxic wastes are particularly damaging)
- What the most damaging sectors and industries are
- Look at the economic impact of waste, and the cost of different waste disposal methods. A guide outlining the value of the US waste industry can be found at https://nrra.net/sweep/the-us-waste-industry-by-the-numbers/. According to recoverusa.com, on average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill, and $65 to $75 to incinerate it.
- Know that waste practices and behaviors are not the same among regions, countries, sectors and so on – each community and system is different