Peak Waste: What You Need to Know About This Important, Shifting Problem

You may think about peak oil every once in a while when filling up your car, but do you ever think about peak waste when you put the trash out on the curb?  The U.S. definitely has a waste problem problem — it produced 250 million tons of it in 2011, 13 million tons of which was clothes!

However, the U.S. isn’t the only country with a problem. As population numbers continue to rise and more people become wealthier, the amount of waste produced is increasing. Nature Weekly Journal of Science discusses how and where peak waste is occurring in a recent article. Global solid-waste generation in 2010 was 3.9 million tons per day and it is estimated to rise to 6.6 million tons per day in 2025 and may exceed 12 million tons per day by 2100!  Interestingly, the location of highest waste generation shifts with economics, population and urbanization.

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North American countries, most of Europe, and Australia, which form the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), will hit their regional peak waste by 2050, followed by Asian-Pacific countries around 2075 and finally Sub-Saharan Africa by 2100. It is around 2100 or soon after that the globe will reach peak waste generation before leveling off or hopefully declining as new technologies and living habits develop.

The OECD countries will hit peak waste in 2050 before falling again due to expectations of advances in material science, resulting in products becoming more resource efficient. Growing economic wealth and populations of Asian countries like China are already seeing a dramatic increase in waste production. China produced 573,808 tons per day of waste in 2005 and is expected to reach 1.5 million tons per day in 2025.

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The increase in waste production can also be attributed to the urban lifestyle.City dwellers might be more energy efficient when it comes to using mass transportation and home energy use but they produce twice as much waste as people in rural areas of the same affluence. As wealth increases, so does the amount of waste, resulting in urbanites producing more waste than poorer rural areas.

However, not all urban areas have fallen into the role of high waste producers. High density living in countries like Japan has kept waste production lower than the United States, suggesting that urban living can be less wasteful if more dense. Other cities, like San Francisco, have already begun to work towards a goal of zero waste. They plan on approaching it through reduction and recycling and are currently recycling or reusing 55 percent of their waste!

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We don’t have to wait for peak waste to strike before we begin reduction. There are a number of things you can do as an individual and community to reduce waste. Personal habits, technology and government policy can have a huge impact on reducing trash. As an individual, try to change your habits at home and at work, be a smart consumer, compost your food waste, and always reuse or recycle!

There are new technological developments every day that will reduce our waste in the future, like this new invention to recycle shoes. Take advantage of these new  technologies as they become available.

Finally work with local, state, and federal government levels to work out ordinances or even laws to reduce trash and increase recoiling in your community.

Reduce, reuse and recycle is always a good mantra to live by and expand to all areas of your life!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons