Global waste production to triple by 2100, led by sub-Saharan Africa
One of the unfortunate but inescapable consequences of population and economic growth has been the unabated proliferation of trash.
Every day, we generate over 3.5 million tons of solid waste—a tenfold increase over the past century. That figure will likely double again by 2025. On our current path, it could balloon to over 11 million tons per day by 2100, a tripling of today's rate, with sub-Saharan Africa fueling most of the growth. These worrisome projections, a group of authors argue in this week's Nature, underscore the already obvious need to balance future population growth and urbanization with more stringent waste reduction efforts.
While the US and other developed countries still account for a sizable proportion of global waste production, East Asia currently represents the locus of growth. China's output alone, which now exceeds half a million tons per day, could mushroom to around 1.4 million tons per day by 2025. Between 2025 and 2050, South Asia, led by India, is expected to take the lead. After 2050, sub-Saharan Africa surges ahead and, by 2100, is responsible for the production of about 3.2 million tons of waste per day—almost a third of the global total.
But the real challenge lies with developing countries. Improving waste management or urban density is one thing. But it's quite another to discourage consumption in countries like China and India, where rapidly growing middle classes want to consume more. The greatest potential for change could reside in those developing nations, particularly in Africa, that still have relatively low urbanization rates and are plagued by high poverty and inequality. With the right education and incentives, they could be encouraged to embrace sustainability—both as a way of life and as a tool of modernization.