Humanity may generate more than 11 million tons of solid waste daily by the end of this century, barring significant reductions in population growth and material consumption, according to experts.
That mind-boggling large heap of trash expected by century end represents a three-fold increase in the amount of stuff people throw away today.
In 1900, the world’s 220 million urban residents tossed out fewer than 330,000 tons of trash daily, such as broken household items, packaging and food waste.
That figure grew to 3.3 million tons of trash per day by 2000, according to an article published today in Nature.
Though some affluent countries have already hit their “peak” waste production, and are in the process of reducing how much waste they generate daily, the trash will pile up particularly high in the world’s fast-urbanizing countries, said Daniel Hoornweg, an associate professor of energy systems at the University of Ontario in Oshawa, Canada, and the Nature article’s lead author.
The article describes projections of when various regions of the world will hit so-called “peak waste” under three scenarios of economic development.
Under the business-as-usual scenario, global peak waste occurs sometime after 2100, but “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 (2.8 million tons) per day,” he and colleagues write.
Waste peaks with higher affluence in part because people stop spending as much money on physical stuff and more on experiences, such as tickets to sporting events or a night out at the theater. In fact, across much of the developed world, peak waste is already in the review mirror.