Shocking Waste Generation and Recycling Statistics Revealed: US in the Top 10 Highest Risk Countries

Author: Marketing
Date: August 14, 2015


Did you know that each year the United States recycles about one-third of all waste created? This is among the key recycling statistics that provide a snapshot of other issues like plastic bag recycling statistics, landfill pollution statistics, and the global waste problem.

Various recycling statistics show it’s boosted its recycling/waste ratio in 1960, 1980, 2000, and 2010s. In fact, the nation’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been tracking the USA’s creation and disposal of waste and showing stats for 30+ years.

When compared to other developed countries, the US produces a significantly higher amount of waste, and recycles a smaller percent. For example, the USA makes up 4% of the planet’s population yet produces a sky-high 12% of its city/town waste.

A Global Snapshot of Waste Issues 2021

In recent decades the international waste issue has worsened exponentially and affected figures like textile waste statistics. This has been due to various factors like:

  • Population
  • Urbanization
  • Economic Growth
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Human Consumption

The situation has resulted in waste generation becoming a major concern in terms of the conservation of natural resources and public health.

It’s also likely that such risks can be linked to worldwide companies. That’s due to the business activities being connected to solid waste creation, whether it’s directly or through indirect factors.

The global waste production is projected to increase by 70% by 2050, according to stats provided by the World Bank. This result can be prevented if people, organizations, and nations take urgent action. Humans now produce an average of 2 BILLION tons of waste every year.

The issue of global waste management is closely linked to overpopulation. It’s projected that by 2030 the world population will reach 8.5 billion. This highlights the need to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Such an approach can help to minimize the effects of human-produced waste on public health and Earth’s environment. Even in small efforts such as using compost to grow plants in your garden or setting aside certain household wastes for recycling.

Several factors such as pollution are creating a devastating impact on the planet’s ecosystem. This includes the general effects of air, water, and soil pollution. For example, chemical compounds in waste break down over several years.

The majority of this pollution is produced through motor vehicles and industrial exhaust. Today’s lifestyle generates such bi-products. Toxic waste is produced from various sources, including plastic, heavy metals, and nitrates.

The final destination of many plastics that each human being disposes of is the ocean. People often never observe those plastics since strong winds blow the pollution out to sea.

The current global situation involving waste and recycling poses some critical questions related to issues like recycling contamination statistics. That’s because the current year is shaping the industry outlook in terms of issues related to:

  • Corporate consolidation
  • Safety
  • Climate commitments
  • Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PEAS)
  • Recycling policy
  • Organic products

Some major questions that will be answered this year include:

  • Will earnings and mergers & acquisitions (M&A) peak?
  • Will industry service providers strive to make workplaces safer?
  • How could organics processing become a more practical business venture?
  • How will landfill/incinerator operators be affected by concerns about PEAS?
  • Will big sustainable goals bring major changes to waste & recycling companies?
  • Will more state/federal recycling legislation trigger small or large industry changes?

The answers to such big questions are closely linked to various Waste Generation and Recycling Indices. They’re often combined with charts, graphs and datasets with dozens of indices that track key risks linked to factors like environment, climate change, and natural hazards.

Such datasets are part of a bigger collection of global risk indices. This includes various issues including environmental and economic risks.

A Waste Generation Index (WGI) offers a quantitative evaluation of a nation’s waste production. It factors in several critical waste types, including:

  • Food waste
  • Plastic waste
  • Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
  • Hazardous waste

Who’s Generating All the Junk?

Population spikes are part of the problem in terms of the world’s waste production. However, other factors including mass human consumption by a small number of developing nations, and bad waste mismanagement causing the environmental impact to become exponentially worse.

In 2014 the average person in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) generated 1.4kg of waste per day, according to OECD stats. Not only do wealthier people consume more total goods, but they also consume a higher amount of packaging.

Based on global waste statistics 2021, the majority of waste in middle/high-income nations includes paper, plastic, and other inorganic materials.

Meanwhile, developing countries produce over half of the Earth’s total solid waste. This includes nations like Costa Rica and Thailand where tourism is a major source of revenue.

Global statistics show that the USA tops nations that fuel the worsening waste crisis. This is due to the nation’s surging consumption without an equal increase in recycling. The largest global economy shows a new index revealing the USA tops the world’s waste production, and ranks as one of the world’s lowest industrial countries in terms of recycling trash.

Who’s Generating All the Junk?

Today’s world waste statistics by country show the United States now tops all nations in terms of waste generation. This was based on two indices created recently by Verisk Maplecroft that included 194 nations.

The research examined how effectively countries are conducting waste management. This is happening in an era when the Earth is dealing with a crisis in which plastics are the major factor.

It’s worth noting that highly-developed North American and European nations all produce a relatively high amount of waste. The highest-risk nations in terms of waste generation include:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • USA

The world creates enough waste every year to fill 800,000 Olympic swimming pools. While the US produces more waste than all other countries, it also lags behind several other nations since it only recycles slightly over one-third of solid waste.

US Creates 3x the Global Average of Waste

This UK study found that the US generates 3x more waste than the global average. The USA produces an average 773kg/1704 lbs. per person of food, plastic, and hazardous waste. This includes 12% of Earth’s MSW, or about 939 million tons.

The amount of US-produced waste is staggering. For example, the figure is 7x higher than Ethiopia, which produces the world’s least amount of waste. Another key fact is the US is the only developed country that lacks the capacity to recycle produced waste.

Several studies show that US infrastructure doesn’t make recycling a viable option for households and companies, which affects recycling costs statistics. Due to bans on exported waste, much of US-produced waste is now burned.

US Generates 4x More Waste than India

China and India combine to make up more than 36% of the world’s population. However, they create 27% of the world’s municipal waste. Interestingly, Americans create more than 3x more waste as China’s citizens.

In terms of the total waste that China and India create the figure is actually higher than the USA’s. However, the two Asian countries also have a combined population of over 2.7 billion, which is over 8x the USA’s population. Thus, the amount of waste Chinese and Indian people produce is a little over 2x the amount of garbage that Americans produce.

The Recycling Index

Verisk Maplecroft created the recycling index as a way to manage recycling performance among 190+ nations. It helps to provide an overview of how different countries are managing waste.

The Recycling Index evaluates how well a nation is willing and able to maintain solid waste that boosts the “3 Rs” through circular material flows. The index is used to determine to what extent a nation’s recovery and recycling of solid waste will affect commercial risks.

The risks are measured by factoring in the ratio of a nation’s solid waste that gets:

  • Collected
  • Managed
  • Recycled

Another factor that’s measured is the amount of governmental commitment, which is determined through adhering to world waste-focused treaties.

Several recyclable materials are evaluated when creating a recycling index. For example, in recent years scientists conducted a study to determine the amount of plastic that was

  • Produced
  • Discarded
  • Landfill-dumped
  • Burned

One key issue is that plastic takes over four centuries to decompose.

The study published in Science Advances projects that by 2050 the world’s oceans will have more plastic than fish (pound for pound), according to National Geographic, It’s also estimated that just 20% of the world’s plastic was recycled in 2015.

Top Countries in Recycling Performance

Several European Union (EU) nations top Recycling Indexes. In global waste statistics 2018, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) teamed up with an environmental consultancy firm to provide data on the nations with the top recycling rates:

#1 GERMANY (56.1%)

Germany has maintained the world’s highest recycling rate since 2016. In 1990 the country completed a packaging audit to prevent a possible spike in landfall issues.

#2 AUSTRIA (53.8%)

Germany’s neighbor has a total ban on particular waste types, which lowers landfill pollution statistics. That includes products with a carbon emission rate (organic) over 5%.

#3 SOUTH KOREA (53.7)

This Asian country uses a system in which private companies collect waste for profit. This ranking in recycling statistics 2018 will likely change. That’s because in April 2018, China banned imported plastic waste.

#4 WALES (52.2%)

This is the smallest nation on this list. Local administrations operate Wales’ recycling, and most individuals and businesses follow similar rules about what they can recycle.

#5 SWITZERLAND (49.7%)

One key to the nation’s recycling system is the “polluter pays” regulation. This requires households/businesses to pay for all non-recycled waste.

The US Lags Behind Other Developed Countries

Verisk Maplecroft’s research discovered that the USA recycled much less than the world’s other developed countries. There are various causes of this scenario, including non-recycled plastics and developing countries like China refusing to accept US waste.

The research showed that the US only recycles about one-third of municipal waste. Meanwhile, the most efficient recycling country was Germany at over two-thirds of waste recycled.

The UK consulting firm reported the USA’s low recycling rate was due to various factors. They included a lack of recycling infrastructure and limited legislation.

Various nations and organizations have accused the US of blocking international steps to reduce plastic waste. That includes banning plastic bags and (single-use) water bottles.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (UN general assembly president) reported that non-governmental groups could still help to boost plastic recycling trends. That includes the USA’s private sector, for example.

World’s Waste Destinations

Foreign Plastic Waste Ban

In nations throughout the world, companies have been pressured to start dealing with plastic waste in particular. For example, several nations have passed legislation to reduce single-use plastic materials, including the items in plastic bag recycling statistics. Today 120+ nations now regulate plastic bags, according to a UN/WRI study.

The anti-plastic bag legislation varies. They include ones like bans, phase-out programs, and pro-reusable bag incentives. Still, each year 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution end up in oceans. It’s estimated companies make about 5 TRILLION plastic bags yearly.

UK and EU Announce End of Single Use Plastics

The EU parliament has voted to ban all single-use plastic by 2021 including:

  • Cutlery
  • Cotton buds
  • Straws
  • Stirrers

Meanwhile, by 2029 EU states will have to meet a collection target of 90% for plastic bottles. In addition, by 2025 plastic bottles will also be required to contain one-quarter recycled content.

The EU legislation also states that labels will be required to state the negative effects on Earth’s environment of throwing certain items onto the street. That includes products like plastic cups.

China’s Waste Import Ban Effects

In the past, China imposed a waste import ban during late 2017, which affected recycling statistics 2017. The goal was to prevent foreign waste products, including plastic, from entering the country.

This step by the Asian country has resulted in waste exporters, including the US, EU, and Australia, from being unable to manage a large amount of generated plastic waste. This requires such countries to find new destinations for domestic waste and has resulted in much solid waste being imported to other developing countries.

Source of Waste Imported to China

Prior to its imported waste ban, China had bought the world’s most recycled waste for a quarter-century. This included nations like the US, UK, and Australia. This required them to find new buyers in regions like South-East Asia including Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand.

This scenario resulted from China’s policy known as “National Sword”, the 2018 law that later affected plastic pollution statistics 2019 banned the import of various recyclable materials like plastic. Since then, the country’s plastic imports have dropped by 99%, according to Yale.

German Waste Exports

Germany has strict rules about sending waste to other countries. For example, recycling statistics 2021 show plastics can only be shipped abroad for recycling.

Following China’s 2018 ban on imported plastic, this resulted in countries like Germany finding new countries to export plastics. In fact, past data shows that in 2018 Germany’s garbage exports to Malaysia spiked 125%. The country exports to other South/South-East Asian countries. This includes sky-rocketing amounts to Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.

US Waste Exports

Studies show that the USA produces more waste than all other countries. In 2018 u.s. plastic waste statistics show it exported over 1 billion kilograms of waste, according to Greenpeace. This included this waste fact: nearly 80% ended up in countries including:

  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

The result of global waste statistics 2019 showed that the US export of plastic waste to many nations spiked after China’s ban on imported waste.

Latin America and Eastern Europe as New Waste Destinations?

Responsible waste exporting can include nations that produce little waste but also conduct good waste management. Several Eastern European and Latin American countries score a medium or higher risk for disposing of waste adequately.

However, investors might also have to deal with possible risks if they decide to fund the construction of new waste infrastructure in such countries. Nations in those regions with medium risk include:

  • Columbia
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic


Various studies show that the USA is the world’s biggest waste generator, while only about one-third gets recycled. This paints a bleak picture versus many EU countries with world-topping recycling/waste ratios.

Meanwhile, it’s possible for the situation to improve, including landfill facts, through methods like national and state legislation, improved recycling infrastructure, and private sector advocacy. These factors and others could decrease in the amount of waste produced by the world’s largest economy.

Some promising recycling statistics show the potential for improving the situation. For example, a 2017 study showed that 85% of Americans recycle plastic. The 2-pronged approach of reducing waste and increasing recycling would be the best recipe for success.

Waste and Recycle Resources

2003-2016 Statistics:

2017 Statistics:

2018 Statistics:

2019 Statistics:


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