2.6 Trillion Pounds of Garbage: Where Does the World's Trash Go?

This year, the world will generate 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage -- the weight of about 7,000 Empire State Buildings. What kind of trash is it? Where does it all go?

The answer is that just under half of it comes from "organic" waste -- food, mostly -- and most of it goes into landfills, according to a new report this week from the World Bank. Here's that story in pie charts, provided by the report.

WHO'S GOT THE MOST WASTE?

The rich, of course. OECD countries make almost half the world's trash. East Asia and the Pacific region (EAP) contributes another fifth. Africa and South Asia produce the least waste.

Screen Shot 2012-06-06 at 8.20.52 PM.png

WHAT'S IN THE GLOBAL GARBAGE CAN?

Mostly food and paper. Organic trash -- food we eat, food animals eat, horticultural waste --  makes up about half of global solid waste, and paper and plastic add another 27%.

Screen Shot 2012-06-06 at 8.20.17 PM.png

WHERE DOES OUR TRASH GO?
[Lower income countries to the left; Higher income to the right]

In both rich and poor countries, the vast majority of our waste goes into landfills where it's (often) covered up. A very small share of waste in the World Bank's data -- which, the authors admit, was difficult to collect for this category -- went to recycled or composted waste. "Africa's collected waste is almost exclusively dumped or sent to landfills," the report said.

Screen Shot 2012-06-06 at 8.18.56 PM.png

And a tweetable stat for the road: The typical person in a developed country produces about 2.6 pounds of garbage a day. That would mean the average American man, weighing 175 pounds, produces his weight in trash every three months.


Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Business

Just In