Special Report

These Are the World’s Biggest Producers of Waste

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5. Finland
> Estimated annual waste per capita: 16.6 metric tons
> Estimated annual waste total: 91,698,449 metric tons
> Waste treatment recycling: 28.1%
> Population: 5,508,214

Just about 3.0% of the total waste produced in Finland is municipal waste. Almost half of it is burned, a trend that has only been improving over the last several years. Recycling has also been increasing because it’s a highly advocated method of waste management in the country and in Europe in general.

The other 97.0% of waste generated in the country comes from various industries, but mostly construction. The housing sector in Finland, one of the richest countries in the world, has been growing due to low mortgage rates and expanding urban areas, resulting in an increased demand for new buildings, especially with small apartments in centrally located zones.

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4. Estonia
> Estimated annual waste per capita: 23.5 metric tons
> Estimated annual waste total: 30,912,409 metric tons
> Waste treatment recycling: 24.7%
> Population: 1,317,384

Estonia, a rising tourism destination where tourists sometimes outnumber locals, produces a total amount of nearly 31 million metric tons of garbage, and a third of that is hazardous waste. The country generates more than 35 times the EU average of hazardous waste per capita, with almost all of it coming from the oil shale sector. Ash and other waste from combusting and refining ends up in landfill, polluting the air with toxic substances.

The country has set regulations for discharging of hazardous waste with taxes imposed if such waste is dumped into water, but payment of these taxes is not strictly enforced, resulting in weak incentive for companies to reduce their environmental footprint, according to the OECD.

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3. United States
> Estimated annual waste per capita: 25.9 metric tons
> Estimated annual waste total: 8,425,840,000 metric tons
> Waste treatment recycling: 34.6%
> Population: 325,147,121

The United States, with the third-largest population of all countries, produced the most municipal solid waste in the world — 258 million tonnes of MSW was generated in 2017. By contrast, second-place China generated 210 million tonnes of MSW in 2017. Adding to this total the World Bank’s special waste categories of industrial, medical, E waste, hazardous, and agricultural waste, the U.S. generates approximately 8.4 billion tonnes of waste in a year.

While the U.S. is the third biggest producer of waste on a per capita basis, some areas within the country are making strides addressing the problem. For example, San Francisco passed an ordinance in 2009 requiring all residents and tourists to compost food waste. The city turned more than a million tonnes of food waste into compost, and as of 2012 had achieved nearly 80% waste diversion — the highest rate of any major U.S. city in the United States. Local government are raising awareness about recycling. Some state now will even pay residents to recycle.

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2. Bulgaria
> Estimated annual waste per capita: 26.7 metric tons
> Estimated annual waste total: 189,141,945 metric tons
> Waste treatment recycling: 19.0%
> Population: 7,075,947

Bulgaria, a country of about 7 million people, generates slightly more garbage per person as the United States, a country of more than 325 million people. This is largely due to the more than 172 million metric tons of waste produced by the construction industry, the fifth highest amount of the 68 countries for which construction and demolition waste data is available.

After an economic slowdown that resulted from the global recession, the construction business is picking up again. Real estate construction has seen the greatest increase in activity — 16.4% between 2010 and 2016. While Bulgaria seems on track to produce even more waste, it is among the countries doing the most to minimize its effect on the environment.

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1. Canada
> Estimated annual waste per capita: 36.1 metric tons
> Estimated annual waste total: 1,325,480,289 metric tons
> Waste treatment recycling: 20.6%
> Population: 36,708,083

Driven by agricultural waste and industrial waste generation, which totalled 181 million tonnes and 1.12 billion tonnes, respectively, in 2017, Canada’s estimated total waste generation is the highest in the world. Canada produced 1.33 billion metric tonnes of waste, or 36.1 tonnes per person.

According to the Canadian government, waste from industrial activities such as oil refining, chemical manufacturing, and metal processing contains various hazardous chemicals, including acids, phenols, arsenic, lead, and mercury. Industrial waste generation is a long-standing problem in Canada, which sought to address the issue as early as 1992 when it ratified the Basel Convention. Like many affluent nations, Canada exports large portions of its waste to other countries, and the convention controls and aims at reducing these waste shipments. This and other measures put Canada on the list of countries doing the most to protect the environment.

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