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US produces far more waste and recycles far less of it than other developed countries

Jul 3, 2019

US represents 4% of the world’s population but produces 12% of municipal solid waste, a stark contrast with China and India

The US produces far more garbage and recycles far less of it than other developed countries, according to a new analysis by the global risk consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft.

The figures emerge as the world faces an escalating waste crisis driven largely by plastics piling up in developing countries and the oceans. The US is at a crossroads as China and other developing countries refuse to continue to accept its waste, the report authors say.

The US represents just 4% of the world’s population, but it produces 12% of global municipal solid waste. In comparison, China and India make up more than 36% of the world’s population and generate 27% of that waste.

While Americans recycle just 35% of their municipal waste, Germany, the most efficient country, recycles 68%.

The firm estimates the US produces about 234lb (106.2kg) of plastic waste per person per year.

“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,” the firm said.

Will Nichols, the firm’s head of environment, said the US had better recycling abilities than much of the world, “but the sheer amount of waste that is being generated is not being dealt with as well”.

For 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported the country generated 262m tons of municipal waste, with more than half of it sent to a landfill.

About 13% of the waste was plastic. Of the 262m tons, a little over a quarter was recycled, according to EPA.

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