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Richer countries produce richer waste

The more affluent a country is, the more waste it produces a report by CyclOpe and Veolia Environmental Services has found.

Following up from its 2006 report From Waste to Resource, results show developed countries China, the USA and the EU15 top the list as the biggest producers of municipal waste. 

According to From Waste to Resource: An abstract of 2009 World Waste Survey, waste from richer countries contains more packaging materials such as paper, glass and metals  but less organic waste. Up to 50% of the total municipal waste could be made up from paper and cardboard, with a substantial percentage of plastics, metals and glass mixed in too. Organic waste makes up the majority of waste in developing countries.

CyclOpe chairman and principal researcher on the report Philippe Chalmin said: The report confirmed what we thought in the first report. The world is producing more and more waste but is only exploiting a third through recycling or energy production.

People sometimes think they need to recycle and recycle but sometimes its better to recover for energy. We need to avoid doctrinal language and not think that one solution is the best.

According to the research world waste production is estimated to be 3.4 to 4 billion tonnes but just 2.74 billion tonnes is being collected.

Similarly, the method of waste management by each country varies significantly with poorer countries enforcing less waste policies than the richer countries. A higher percentage of waste tends to be landfilled, with even more wildcat landfill sites. Larger countries with more space, such as Australia and the USA, were found to be attracted to controlled landfill sites. In contrast, countries short of space and with high population densities such as Japan and northern European countries tend to opt more for incineration technologies. But those countries with a higher environmental awareness, such as Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavian countries enforced more recovery and recycling policies.

Developing countries were found to have a large informal sector managing waste made up of poor people collecting and recycling materials from waste for resale. In many towns and cities waste is apparently absorbed by the activities of the informal sector, traditionally regarding waste as a resource. Waste collection was also found to be inefficient in developing countries as management and supervision of staff is weak, waste vehicles are inadequate, collection routes are not rational and the capacity of most transfer centres is insufficient.


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