5 Things To Know About the Global Garbage Heap (Slideshow)

The World Bank has issued a report about municipal solid waste (MSW) — garbage — and the findings are definitely not tidy.

This year, the world is on track to generate 2.6 trillion tons of garbage – about the weight of 7,000 Empire State Buildings, as as The Atlantic observes.

(1) We Each Generate 2.6 Pounds of Garbage a Day

Garbage outside the rear of Rigby House

The very notion of all that trash is alarming in and of itself. But we are producing more garbage at a faster rate than ever. The garbage produced by urban dwellers is “growing even faster than the rate of urbanization,” says the World Bank:

Ten years ago, 2.9 billion urban residents generated about 0.64 kg (about 1.4 pounds) of garbage per person per day (0.68 billion tonnes per year).

But today, 3 billion urban dwellers generate 1.2 kg (about 2.6 pounds) — almost twice as much — garbage a day.

In just over a decade, by 2025, the World Bank predicts an increase of 4.3 billion urban residents who will generate 1.42 kg (about 3.1 pounds) per day of municipal solid waste (2.2 billion tonnes per year).


Photo by Alan Stanton

(2) Who Produces the Most Waste?

Tower of London


Photo taken in London by troyjmorris

The richer urban dwellers are, the more garbage they generate. The World Bank notes that OECD countries — the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, European countries, Turkey, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Chile — produce 44 percent of the world’s waste.

Another fifth comes from East Asia and the Pacific region countries.

Polystyrene garbage

Photo taken in Tokyo by dlisbona

Africa and South Asia generate the least amount of trash at all.


(3) Where Does All the Garbage Go?


Photo taken in Venice by Roberto Trm

Richer countries, which produce most of the global trash heap, do the most to collect their garbage.

But in both rich and poor countries, the vast majority of garbage — 59 percent in both rich and poor countries — ends up in landfill where it is simply covered over. Otherwise, garbage goes to dumps (33 percent in rich countries, 13 percent in poor ones).

Only 2 percent is recycled or turned into compost in rich countries.


Photo taken in Burkina Faso by Marco Bellucci

Zero percent of trash is recycled in poor countries and one percent becomes compost — and one percent goes to people’s incomes.

(4) What Kind of Waste?

Heaps of discarded glass candle offerings, garbage, behind a shrine, Mexico

Photo of discarded glass candle offerings behind a shrine in Mexico by Wonderlane

Around the globe, organic waste makes up 46 percent of garbage. Paper comprises about 17 percent and plastic about 10 percent; glass and metal make up 9 percent together.

India : Andhra Pradesh : Puttaparthy / Puttaparthi : garbage : litter : waste


Photo taken in Andhra Pradesh, India, by artist in doing nothing


It goes without saying that all of this garbage has an impact on the environment. Post-consumer waste is estimated to account for about 5 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Methane from landfills accounts for 12 percent of total global methane emissions.

Manila Bay

Photo of Manila Bay by ~MVI~

(5) What Can We Do?

Recycling bins


Photo by Olishaw

The World Bank offers a few suggestions for policy changes to reduce carbon gas emissions:

  • public education;
  • pricing mechanisms such as charging for products so as to “stimulate consumer behavior to reduce waste generation and increase recycling” and such as charging more for a higher quantity of waste disposal;
  • policies and pricing that will “stimulate demand for products made with recycled post-consumer waste”;
  • using compost in public parks and other city-owned property.

There’s been plenty of talk about reducing our carbon footprint. How can we all go about reducing our garbage footprint?

Neighbor's compost

Photo of compost by Joi

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Photo by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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Cheryl B.
Cheryl B.3 years ago

sad, and scary

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

so sad. if we all did our part, truly did our part, it would at least help. but so few really want to make a difference, and few even acknowledge there is a problem

Michael C.
Michael C.3 years ago

Marie W, I am sure that your remark was stated as a display of your despair over our growing problem, but more police...I fail to find a that to be a solution.

Man has lost his capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by, destroying the Earth. Albert Schweitzer

We are lucky to be so close to the City of Tucson, their recycle program is continuing to expand.

Now if we could get people to actually read the sign that states what is or is not recyclable, you see our program co-mingles everything, so humans must sort the majority of the product.

After all, it is easier to drive a car into a ditch, than to get it out.

Did any of you see that, I said "product," and it is.

As I stated earlier, our household produces less than 2.6 lbs of "garbage" every two weeks, and yet, if there were a market, we could cut that in half.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams3 years ago

Pamela K. Unfortunately, trying to tax garbage as it is disposed of is more likely to provoke illegal dumping than it is to reduce the amount of garbage generated. It would help more to tax everything on a dry-weight (to avoid taxing water) basis to pay for the eventual cost of disposing of the remains. I already dump in my recycle bin more litter that I pick up along my way than I throw away trash and garbage remaining from stuff I buy.

Robert C.
Robert Cruder3 years ago

Just as the golf course down the street is averaged into your water usage and the bridge repair across town is averaged into your usage of cement, much of that 2.6 lbs of refuse per day is generated by others on your behalf.

I recycle everything but garbage and kitty litter. Composting the former is considered to be a public nuisance and the latter a public health risk. Nonetheless, I consider the 2.6 lb average to be low.

It is just this element of indirect waste generation and indirect consumption that makes pure population numbers so important. One cannot make up for adding a child by recycling one's cans and bottles.

Kim D.
Kimberly D.3 years ago

I don't have 2.6 pounds of garbage in a week, much less a day. I recycle everything possible. Lucky for me, the city where I live has a terrific recycling program that actually picks up recycling along with trash every week. My trash can is virtually empty every week, while my recycle can is fairly full.

Michael C.
Michael C.3 years ago

In our home, we do not "generate" 2.6 lbs. in 2 weeks and that is for 2 people, it is not hard to do.

Go to the Care2 article: 10 Tips for Creating a Zero Waste Home You will find some rather good examples.

We live on 160 acres, in an Intentional Community, several times a month we have a community dinner. We always take with us our own utensils, plates, cups, etc., we are often ask why we do that. As of recent, I see that fewer people are falling back on throwaways. Result: Lesser impact

When we go to Tucson, we always prepare our own lunch, we carry 5 liters of water (from our own water filtration system), in Stainless Steel bottles. Besides it is difficult to eat well in the run. Result: No waste

We carry 5 cotton/poly bags in our Samurai, so that they are always at the ready.

It is not so hard to do.

Roger M.
Past Member 3 years ago

Interesting post. Thanks.

Arild Warud
Arild Warud3 years ago


Doug Gledhill
Doug G.3 years ago

All one hears in this nation is consume, consume, consume. People spend hours stuck to the boob tube listening to all those commericals telling them all sorts of crap to pander to the person's ego and the advertisers pocketbook. Few truly question what they are told. Fewer still demand quality products that are reliable, durable and can be rebuildable. Too many are struck with the latest fad, there to impress, if only for a moment.
If people really cared about this earth they would go out of their way to learn to do different things to mitigate their personal impact. Nowadays, plenty of people take far too much for granted and far too many chose to remain apart of the problem rather than make the changes that would curtail so many environmental problems.
I have little faith in the species ability to rise above its knuckle dragging approach to so many problems it and it alone have brought to this planet. Garbage seems to be the best monument of Homo sapien for everywhere man goes so does his trash.
Innovation and technology have only added to the problems. There are more educated people in the US today that at anytime in its history but that doesn't seem to change the dynamic either. If man would expend as much time caring for this planet as he does worshipping himself and his supposed intellect, the planet would be in much better shape.