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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 karlhansAn open landfill in Mandaue City, the Philippines. The cost of managing waste will be the highest in
lower-income countries where population growth is high.

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.


Nicky Ouellet
After teaching English for three years in Russia and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Nicky now writes for the Earth Island Journal.

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The whole world is affected by the problem of trash generation.The garbage problem is also affecting the nature’s climate.

By ammyjohn on Fri, July 03, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Nice scholarly summary of a very important topic.  National Geographic also has an interesting series on this very topic.

By tom peters on Wed, June 27, 2012 at 7:59 am

Thanks for a well-written article. 
The writer’s concluding paragraph is key: “Waste is mainly a by-product of consumer-based lifestyles that drive much of the world’s economies” and thus, “reducing consumerism would be the fastest, most effective solution to this pervasive problem….”  Unfortunately,consumerism is the prime driver of our growth-addicted economic model (which at present is showing signs of severe and advanced dysfunction), and until human society can develop a different goal for our economic system (maybe quality of life could be tried in exchange for quantity of stuff), we will continue to grow our waste, exhaust our resources, and otherwise make life on Earth less desirable.

By david m on Wed, June 27, 2012 at 5:34 am

The writer is spot on. We are on an apocalyptically wasteful path and we need to pay attention.  Steve, on the other hand, when you are examining your “divots” make sure that you are wearing a hazardous waste material outfit since you are likely standing on a superfund level waste site due to the chemicals and treatments required to keep your greens and fairways looking spectacular even if you are not playing an old landfill.  Notice the three headed frogs living in the water hazards?  Hum, I wonder?

By Karl on Tue, June 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Well done piece.  Agree with earlier comments that the ridiculous amount of packaging of many products is a significant contributor.  And I’ll have to check what’s underneath my divots the next time I’m hacking away on a golf course.

By Steve on Mon, June 25, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Excellent article addressing an often overlooked but huge problem. I’m glad that Ms.Ouellet made mention of packaging. So many products use wasteful packaging products. That’s one way we can all do something right away ... purchase only sensibly packaged products and demand that your favorite products reduce waste. Poland Springs just made a minor change to their bottles & saved tons of waste. Seventh Generation has been package conscious for decades. Thanks again for shining the spotlight on this issue!

By Paul Smith on Fri, June 22, 2012 at 6:06 am

The solution to this problem is long overdue. In Rhode Island our waste heap has grown to be the highest point in the state.
The old Jerimoth Hill, in West Glocester has lost it’s title to a pile of junk.
  A good article. precise and informative. On the thought of a solution we might stop the multiple packaging and not work in so much engineering toward early obsolescence on products. The best solution might be planned buying. A thought-provoking piece.

By Poppie on Tue, June 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Where is the solution? Has anyone come up with a sustainable and economically feasible program?

By normand on Tue, June 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

This is what I learned: “In some areas, up to 50 percent of a city’s budget can go toward solid waste management.“Geesh! Thanks for the important lesson.
stv mck

By stefe mckee on Wed, June 13, 2012 at 9:58 am

Nicky Ouellet has really got me thinking, not just about the appalling amount of waste we generate—the 1.3 billion tons in cities alone, a figure that will double in the next 12 years—but about all the new golf courses that are needed to cover this garbage. Humbly, I have to admit that my former wife was probably correct in her excoriation of my favorite sport: “golf, what a complete waste.”

By Regis Obijiski on Tue, June 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm

This is outrageous! Thanks for writing a clear, informative and interesting overview of such an important issue.

By RPO on Tue, June 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm

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