Cities’ Trash Projected to Double by 2025
As Urbanization Increases So Does Amount of Garbage
Golfers out for a relaxed game at Park Ridge Golf Course in Palm Springs might be surprised to learn that they are teeing off on an old landfill. Underneath them and a thick blanket of sod rests the refuse of the city. The trash is out of sight and out of mind.
Photo by Flicker user karlhans
Inhabitants of cities in poorer countries are often not so lucky — the landfill may be an open air “city dump” next to their apartment, attracting flies, rodents, and reeking of rot. And the problem of trash disposal is likely to get worse.
Today, the world’s cities produce about 1.3 billion tons of solid waste a year. That figure that will nearly double by 2025. A report released by the World Bank last week found that the amount of municipal solid waste is growing at a rate faster than urbanization. The annual cost of solid waste management is projected to rise from the current $205 billion to $375 billion, says the report, What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management. The cost of managing waste will be the highest in lower-income countries where population growth is high, like Indonesia and the Philippines.
Increased production of solid waste is the result of growth in population in urban areas paired with growth in the economy. People living in rural areas tend to accumulate less waste because they buy less heavily packaged items, recycle and reuse more, and have less disposable income with which to purchase store-bought goods (which usually involve more packaging). But while the arrivals to the cities bring new sources of garbage and waste, they don’t bring with them new sources of money to spend on the safe collection and disposal of that waste.
So cities are left to balance the consumption-based aspirations of their new residents with the demands of trash collection. When the amount of trash overwhelms the ability of cities to handle it all, problems arise. Common concerns include air pollution from the open burning of garbage, insect and rodent infestations, methane emissions, and water pollution. Other problems include particulate and CO2 emissions from waste transport vehicles, and the handling and disposal of hazardous materials from health care facilities and heavy industry. Coastal cities that aren’t able to properly collect solid waste run the risk of letting it drain or flood into the ocean.
In addition to this balancing act, cities must also balance their checkbooks. In some areas, up to 50 percent of a city’s budget can go toward solid waste management. But even such large expenditures sometimes don’t cover all the costs. In developing countries or cities that are “geographically challenged,” 30 to 60 percent of waste may go uncollected, and sometimes less than half of the population is served by city disposal services. On top of that, up to 80 percent of collection and transportation equipment may be out of service, resulting in dumping and open or backyard burning.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the World Bank report is the accuracy of the bank’s former forecasts. The new report follows up on a 1999 survey of Asian waste management, in which researchers Daniel Hoornweg and Laura Thomas predicted that by 2025 Asia would produce 1.8 million tons of solid waste per day. Last year, they found that South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific were generating 1 million tons of solid waste per day, proving their ten-year-old prediction on target. China became the world’s largest waste generator in 2004, and by 2030 will likely produce twice as much solid waste as the United States.
“Humans are incredibly adept at creating waste,” says Hoornweg. He also says that the 1999 predictions were conservative and cautious, to the extent that he believes he underestimated how much garbage we will be producing in the coming years.
The report recommends cooperation between community and city planners in every aspect of waste creation, collection, and disposal. “Waste is mainly a by-product of consumer-based lifestyles that drive much of the world’s economies,” the report says. Reducing consumerism would be the fastest, most effective solution to this pervasive problem, but other community based efforts, such as neighborhood recycling and composting, could result in a decrease of solid waste.