Women separating plastic trash.
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Global Garbage Crisis: How is the World Drowning in its Own Trash?

From landfills pilling up into looming trash mountains and nano plastic already taking over the marine life, the world is drowning in its own trash. But how did we get here? How severe is the global garbage crisis? And is there a way out?

Global Garbage Crisis Entangled with Climate Change

In the age of climate change, the global garbage crisis has not failed to contribute its bit. As per the World Bank’s estimate, by 2050, global waste is expected to increase by 70%.

According to the most recent data from the Environmental Protection Agency, solid waste landfills rank as the third-largest source of methane emission in the US. In 2019, landfills contributed to 15% of the total methane emission, the emission amount equivalent to over 21.6 million passenger cars over the duration of one year.

“Humans generate an average of 4.5 trillion pounds of waste yearly. And the numbers are already on the trajectory of shooting off the roof. By 2050, global garbage is expected to exceed the 3.4 billion tonnes mark annually.”

World Bank

Furthermore, the ground reality differs from theory, and not every garbage recyclable on paper is actually recycled. For example, dry recyclable wastes, including cardboard, plastic, metal, glass, and paper, make up 38% of municipal waste. However, only 13.5% of this garbage is recycled globally, World Bank’s What a Waste 2.0.

Piling Up Textile Waste

Last month, shocking photographs of Chile’s Atacama desert surfaced on the internet, causing a stir among environmentalists. The images depicted our worldwide fast fashion concerns manifesting themselves in the world’s driest desert terrain.

The Iquique port in Northern Chile receives an estimated 59,000 metric tonnes of apparel, which resellers may purchase. Unfortunately, roughly 39,000 metric tonnes, the majority of it is dumped in the desert as garbage.

In the United States, over 85% of all textiles are discarded. Every year, 12.8 million tonnes of textiles are discarded in the United States.

Also Read: Reality Check: Is Fast Fashion Sustainable?

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with textile production emitting 1.2 billion metric tonnes each year.

So, is keeping up with the latest trends worth it?

Global Waste Index 2022: Shocking Revelations

The Global Waste Index 2022 from Sensoneo depicts the still-struggling picture of waste management and recycling plants worldwide. The difference in how waste is produced and disposed of varies wildly across borders.

Also Read: Illegal Waste Dumping: How to Tackle This Spiralling Crime?

Analyzing the waste management efficiency of 38 major countries, the index ranked the biggest waste producer and polluters in 2021. Here are some shocking findings:

Turkey: The Boom of Illegal Waste Disposal

After three years, Turkey has again topped the list of the least environmentally friendly countries in terms of waste management. In 2019, no waste was recycled in the country.

However, according to official figures, about 47 kg per capita water was recycled in 2021. But despite the visible improvement over the years, annually, 176 kilograms per capita of garbage is illegally disposed of.

USA Drowning in Waste

The USA is leading the list, as the most waste generating country. The index highlighted that half of 811 kg of waste produced by each citizen ends up in landfills. While only 95 kgs of it are incinerated.

Compared to 2019, each US citizen is producing two kilograms more waste today. On the contrary, the amount of waste produced per capita in the UK has reduced by five kilograms per capita in the same period.

Trash created due to Covid-19 pandemic.
CC Image courtesy of Ivan Radic on Flickr

The waste products in the US have further increased as the pandemic skyrocketed the use of disposable items such as COVID rapid tests, medical masks, and more.

Also Read: Plastic Pollution: Environmental Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

The Great Recycling Myth

Many countries, including South Korea, Sweden, and Germany, like to boost their innovative and effective waste management systems. However, the plastic recycling rates can be misleading.

The measure of recycling waste is usually taken from the volume of waste disposed of in the recycling plant. But in reality, only a section of the waste is recycled through material recovery. After a lengthy sorting process, a small amount of the garbage is reusable. Whatever else remains is then incinerated.

For example, according to a pro-recycling organization based in Germany, Friends of the Earth, less than 16% of the recycled garbage is ever reused.

The Steps Toward Zero-Waste Tomorrow

Fortunately, not all hope is lost. New technology and environmentally friendly companies are trying to tackle the global garbage crisis.

Brands include Bin-E’s solution, ecoATM’s solution, Sense Network’s solution, and more are, pioneering companies bringing science and technology to the forefront of the global garbage crisis.

From managing industrial wastes and urban and rural areas, the proactive involvement of tech leaders in developing sustainable and profit-worthy products out of the trash can prove to be a game-changer in the long term.

Global Garbage Crisis: What is at Stake?

The harsh reality stands tall: less than 20% of our water is recycled annually. Single-use plastics are choking the oceans, touring landfills are intoxicating the soil, and millions are already suffering from serious health issues in the aftermath. Its effect on climate change is further pretty apparent.

Also Read: Terrifying effects of Climate Change are Threatening Humanity

The world population is shooting up the roof, and so is the garbage crisis. Though companies offer practical solutions, the end to the complex problem is still far away.