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An Everest of waste piling up

Global production of solid waste could triple by the end of the century. How can we bring about an earlier “peak” to reduce its impact?

In 2010, daily production of solid waste in the world exceeded 3.5 million metric tons. This figure will increase to 6 million metric tons per day in 2025.

The increase in the volume of solid waste now exceeds the rise in other sources of pollution and the growing rate of urbanization. If current socioeconomic trends persist, global production of solid waste could triple to reach 11 million metric tons a day by 2100. This means that global “peak waste,” the point at which the global volume of waste will stabilize and slowly begin to fall, will not be reached before the end of the century. These are the conclusions of a study published in Nature by a team of researchers led by Dan Hoornweg, a professor and specialist in urban development for the World Bank.

Peak waste is, however, expected to occur by 2050 in OECD countries and by 2075 in the Asia-Pacific region. It is actually the pace of urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa that will determine when the world reaches a plateau. The more affluent and urban a country becomes, the more waste it produces.

Dan Hoornweg predicts that the volume of waste produced in OECD countries will decline in the second half of the century. Several cities have implemented effective waste reduction measures, redirecting waste through recovery, recycling and composting. He also backs a number of waste recovery initiatives for cities in emerging countries.

These efforts could bring peak waste forward to 2075 and reduce its intensity by over 25%.

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