The world’s trash is piling up, and global waste management companies can’t stay on top of it. According to the World Bank, “Global annual waste generation is expected to jump to 3.4 billion tons over the next 30 years, up from 2.01 billion tons in 2016.” That’s a 70% increase in trash in by 2050. The economic, environmental, and public health impacts of that increase are staggering.
Who will have to deal with the growth in public waste?
Cities, national governments, and international agencies are grappling with a problem they are not well equipped to solve, and most macro-size interventions will have to be directed toward the developing world, where recycling rates currently stand at an abysmal 4% and the facilities to manage solid waste at scale simply don’t exist. This is why the solution to the growing problem of global rubbish begins in your family’s kitchen and your office’s industrial waste bin.
Where is all this global waste growth coming from?
Despite persistent public misconceptions, global poverty rates have plunged in the last five years. That’s reason to celebrate, but at the same time, the global population has continued to expand at about 1.1% per year.
We have more people living on the planet than ever, and those people on average have more money to spend than they did a decade ago. The middle class is exploding in countries like India, China, South Africa, Russia, and Brazil, which means that their citizenry is now buying packaged and disposable goods at an unprecedented rate.
Unfortunately, many municipalities in those countries lack the infrastructure to manage the attendant increase in plastic waste. These middle-income countries are scrambling to get a handle on waste management.
In many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, poverty rates remain high, but the poorest people still have more access to goods than ever before. Countries in these regions often have underdeveloped waste disposal and collection systems. Moreover, several African countries have sizeable portions of their populations employed as garbage pickers. The existence of this industry discourages recycling; if a systematized and technologically sophisticated recycling system did come in, millions of subsistence-level workers would lose their one source of income.
Of course, ratios of trash generated per person are highest in the U.S., Europe, and other high-income regions. Together these countries contain just 16% of the world’s population but generate more than 30% of its waste. Global waste statistics show that while about one-third of the waste in upper-income countries gets recycled or composted, the overall size of the trash piles in these nations means they are helping nudge global trash rates upward, too.
What effects will the growth in global waste have?
Ever-increasing mountains of trash aren’t just sickening to imagine, they are literally killing us. Global waste growth is affecting the climate, human health, and economic development.
Climate: Anthropogenic climate change springs from multiple sources, including transportation emissions, industrial manufacturing waste, food waste, incinerated trash, and—almost comically—cow flatulence. That means our effect on the climate has more to do with what—and how—we throw away than it does with what we consume.
“The decomposition of municipal waste is one of the largest human-produced sources of methane emissions in the world,” wrote Danny Clemens in Discovery. “Although we hear endless chatter about carbon emissions (and for good reason), methane emissions are just as troublesome: methane is 20 times more potent by weight than carbon dioxide.”
Human Health: Accumulating rubbish means more willingness to dump trash in the oceans, where marine life absorbs chemicals from the plastics. Humans eat fish and certain marine flora, ingesting the harmful toxins. Some municipalities deem incinerating trash a good solution, but this approach causes pollution, which in turn causes respiratory diseases. Mountains of trash left standing in the open are a breeding ground for bacteria and vermin, which carry and disperse a myriad of illnesses.
Economic Development: No entrepreneur wants to set up a new firm, hire employees, and generate wealth in a community that’s hamstrung by poor waste management. At an international level, this basic reality pits economic development opportunities against landfills, and the landfills are winning. On the municipal and state levels, excessive garbage affects tax structures, fees, and land prices. Contaminated real estate holds little appeal to potential buyers.
What are the solutions to the growing waste problem?
Global waste disposal solutions include multi-national approaches, such as creating radioactive depositories, renegotiating global recycling supply chains, and finding ways to stop dumping trash on low-income countries.
Most people, however, will never receive an invitation to the UN to discuss global waste management policies. What can Main Street businesses, enterprises, and families do to help solve the growing waste problem?
Here are five ways to reduce or eliminate waste in your home or office:
- Go greener when it’s cheaper. One criticism leveled at the “go greener” movement is that it costs too much for ordinary people to buy pricey, green products. Sometimes that’s true. But sometimes, going greener can be cheaper. Using ceramic mugs and plates and metal flatware, for instance, is less expensive and more environmentally friendly than buying disposable products.
- Purchase in bulk. Use your membership in the big box store to pick up food items. You’ll save money, shop less often, and help reduce the amount of packaging materials entering the waste stream.
- Recycle (and actually do it). Everyone knows to recycle, but not everyone does it regularly. Make it easier by taking advantage of curbside recycling programs, putting recycling bins in can’t-miss spots at the office, and check with your local collector about recycling your e-waste properly.
- Compost your food waste and yard waste. If you have a garden, you might already have a compost pile. If you don’t, and don’t have the space to start one, you can hire local companies to pick up your organic waste for composting at local sites. (In fact, if you’re an entrepreneur, composting is a great business to get into now.)
- Use smart technology. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, such as industrial bin sensors, are helping global smart cities like Singapore efficiently manage their solid waste. These technologies are also affordable for families and companies of all sizes.
Smart technology helps manage global waste by enabling companies to optimize garbage collection routes, eliminate unnecessary pickups, and make data-based choices about what gets thrown away and when. Sensa Network solutions include industrial IoT smart sensors that monitor fullness, track data, and maintain equipment to optimize pickup and hauling schedules, reducing operational costs immediately by up to 60%. Learn more about how Sensa Networks’ sensors can help you do your part to manage global waste growth while also saving money and enhancing your data bank.