Malaysia has said it will be shipping waste back to the UK, Canada, US and Australia © AFP/Getty Images
Malaysia has said it will be shipping waste back to the UK, Canada, US and Australia © AFP/Getty Images

Only 16% of world's waste recycled

5 July 2019

Firms producing large volumes of waste could find themselves footing the bill if they do not find sustainable solutions to global waste crisis, a report warned. 

Research conducted by Verisk Maplecroft found over 2.1bn tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated globally each year, but only 16% (323m tonnes) is recycled while almost half (46%) of waste is disposed of unsustainably. 

The report said highly developed European and North American countries are disproportionately responsible for the highest levels of waste generation with the highest risk countries including the US, the Netherlands, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France and Australia. 

“The gulf between what we produce and what we recycle is creating profound challenges for governments and populations. But it is the companies producing large volumes of waste that may find themselves footing the bill if they do not find sustainable solutions to drive a more circular economy,” the report said. 

It found US businesses and citizens are the largest contributors to the world’s waste, generating 12% (239m tonnes) of global MSW but only accounting for 4% of the world’s population. 

China and India make up over 36% of the world's population but collectively generate 27% of global waste.

In terms of recycling, the US also falls behind all other industrialised nations, recycling only 35% of its MSW. Meanwhile Germany, the best performing country analysed, recycles 68% of its waste.

“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 country’s seeming lack of resolve to deal with waste domestically may become a mounting problem in the face of plastics import bans from China and many developing countries, where the US currently exports a large proportion of its plastic waste,” the report warned. 

This year, both the Philippines and Malaysia committed to sending waste back to countries such as Canada, the US and the UK. 

In May, 180 countries excluding the US agreed to restrict shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to developing nations. 

Niall Smith, senior environmental analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said: “With the world’s attention firmly fixed on the problem of waste, we expect governments to act, with businesses footing the bill.

“Beyond the potential financial impacts, the reputational risks for business are high if they ignore intensifying interest in the issue from consumers and investors.”

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