The world has a trash problem, and a new report out this week reminds us just how much Americans contribute. Turns out that while they create the most waste in the world, they’re one of the worst countries at recycling it.
The report — published by Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk analysis group — looks at the waste generation and recycling performance of 194 countries, including Australia, China and Russia.
Every year, we humans produce some 2.1 billion tonnes of solid waste. As the report notes, that’s enough garbage to fill 822,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In short, a lot of trash. We’re recycling only 16 per cent of this waste, with another 46 per cent “disposed of unsustainably”.
The United States, in particular, has a lot of work to do: Americans each generate, on average, 773kg of trash a year. That amounts to 12 per cent of the world’s total waste, according to the report, even though the US is home to a mere four per cent of the world’s population. In fact, individuals in the United States create more than three times as much garbage as those in China.
And just 35 per cent of America's waste gets recycled. Germany, on the other hand, recycles 68 per cent of its waste.
The issue of America's outsized trash footprint has become even more relevant as countries struggle to figure out where to send all their plastic waste.
China banned all plastic imports at the end of 2017, and since then a load of plastic trash has been ping-ponging around the world, some of it winding up in countries that struggle to manage their own waste. Malaysia is now stepping up to return mislabelled and contaminated plastics. Countries are starting to have enough of the West's privileged ass sending our trash their way.
Now, it isn’t just an American problem. The Netherlands, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Australia and France are also bad when it comes to their per capita waste production, per the report.
But the US stands out both in terms of the sheer amount of junk it produces and its inability to handle it all themselves. As the report authors note, “The US is the only developed nation whose waste generation outstrips its ability to recycle, underscoring a shortage of political will and investment in infrastructure.”
They ain’t wrong about the lack of political will. The money and resources are there, unlike in many of the world’s developing countries. However, Americans love to consume. Maybe this report will be some incentive to skip the disposable plastic cups and wash the damn dishes.