Countries around the globe continue to generate large amounts of waste as their populations grow and their economies expand. The amount of waste generated by urban residents in 2016 is estimated to have doubled to 1.2 kilograms per capita per day from 0.64 kilograms per capita per day 10 years ago. On a yearly basis, this equates to 1.3 billion tonnes per year in 2016, versus about 680 million tonnes per year a decade ago.

Key Takeaways

  • While the U.S. and China are recognized to be the world's largest emitters of green house gasses, they are not the biggest producers of solid waste per capita.
  • Solid waste refers to household garbage, non-hazardous trash, and litter.
  • Surprisingly, the largest waste producers per household are found in smaller geographic countries like Kuwait and Caribbean Island nations.

Municipal Solid Waste

These figures refer specifically to kilograms of municipal solid waste (MSW), which the World Bank defines as "non-hazardous waste generated in households, commercial and business establishments, institutions, and non-hazardous industrial process wastes, agricultural wastes and sewage sludge." The World Bank predicts that 2.2 billion tonnes of MSW will be produced in 2025, or 1.42 kilograms per capita per day, which are increases of 69% and 18%, respectively, reflecting population growth for the latter.

1. Kuwait

Kuwait is number one in the world at producing the most waste, generating 5.72 kilograms per capita per day of MSW. Its trash accumulation owes itself to the country lacking proper landfills to dispose of all the waste. However, the World Bank projects that by 2025, Kuwaitis will be generating less waste at 4 kilograms per capita per day. Kuwait is known for its oil industry, responsible for 60% of the country's $284 billion gross domestic product (GDP). About 4 million people call Kuwait home.

2. Antigua and Barbuda

Producing 5.50 kilograms per capita per day of MSW, Antigua and Barbuda is located in the West Indies, with many celebrities, such as Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey, having homes on the island nation. Tourism is critical to Antigua and Barbuda's economy, as it makes up close to 60% of its $1.3 billion GDP. Antigua and Barbuda struggles with waste disposal, but the World Bank expects its waste generation to fall to 4.3 kilograms per capita per day by 2025.

3. St. Kitts and Nevis

The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are British commonwealths and home to only 55,000 people. Still, the islands generate 5.45 kilograms per capita per day of MSW, with the trash accumulation related to its tourism and farming industries. This rate is expected to fall to 4 kilograms per capita per day by 2025. The St. Kitts and Nevis government has transformed the country's economy over the years from a focus on sugar cane production to other agricultural products, banking, tourism and manufacturing. St. Kitts and Nevis have a combined GDP of $900 million, with services such as tourism accounting for close to 75% of the economy.

4. Guyana

Guyana, located on the east coast of South America, produces 5.33 kilograms per capita per day of MSW. It struggles with trash disposal, but the country has a rich biology, and residents speak English, unlike neighbor Brazil, which speaks Portuguese, and many other countries in South America, which speak Spanish. Guyana's population is 800 million people, and its GDP measures at just over $3 billion by 2025. It is estimated that Guyana's waste production will fall to 3.5 kilograms per capita per day.

5. Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans generate 5.10 kilograms per capita per day of MSW with a population exceeding 20 million people. As an island country, Sri Lanka is situated to the south of India and lacks the necessary infrastructure for proper sanitation and waste removal; however, economic growth can help the country develop further. Sri Lanka has an $82 billion economy with a growth rate of over 5% in 2015. The country's production of waste is predicted to fall to 4 kilograms per capita per day in 2025.