Countries around the globe continue to generate large amounts of waste as their populations grow and their economies expand. In 2018, the World Bank estimated that waste generation will increase as much as 70%—from 2.01 billion tonnes to 3.40 billion in 2050.

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

  • In 2018, the World Bank estimated that waste generation will increase as much as 70%—from 2.01 billion tonnes to 3.40 billion in 2050.
  • If the World Bank's projections are correct, waste generation will dramatically outpace population growth by more than double by 2050.
  • The countries that produced the most waste in 2017 were Canada, Bulgaria, the United States, Estonia, and Finland.

Waste Generation and Outpace Population Growth

The World Bank predicts that 3.40 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) will be produced in 2050. If the World Bank's projections are correct, waste generation will dramatically outpace population growth by more than double by 2050.

Here are the five countries in the world that produce the most waste, according to the World Banks's “What a Waste” global database, last updated in September of 2018. These figures were calculated by combining the special waste and regular municipal solid waste per capita produced by each country.

The total waste figure is the sum of all the waste in the latest year for which data was available in the special categories of agricultural waste, construction and demolition, e-waste, hazardous waste, industrial waste, medical waste, and the total municipal solid waste (MSW).

1. Canada

Canada's estimated total waste generation is the largest in the entire world. Canada's estimated annual waste per capita is 36.1 metric tons and the estimated annual waste total is 1,325,480,289 metric tons. Canada's population is 36.7 million.

2. Bulgaria

While Bulgaria has a population of approximately 7 million people, it generates slightly more garbage than the United States, which has a population of more than 325 million people. The estimated annual waste per capita in Bulgaria is 26.7 metric tons and the estimated annual waste total is 189,141,945 metric tons.

Bulgaria's large construction business is the primary generator of the country's waste—the industry alone produces 172 million metric tons of waste. Between 2010 and 2016, real estate construction saw a 16.4% increase in activity in the country.

3. United States

The United States has the third-largest population of all countries, and it produced the most municipal solid waste in the world: 258 million tonnes of MSW was generated in 2017. The most populous country in the world, China, on the other hand, generated 210 million tonnes of MSW in 2017.

The World Bank has a special category for industrial, medical, e-waste, hazardous, and agricultural waste. The U.S. generated approximately 8.4 billion tonnes in this category of waste in 2017.

4. Estonia

Estonia's estimated annual waste per capita was 23.5 metric tons and its estimated annual waste total was 30,912,409 metric tons. The country generates more than 35 times the EU average of hazardous waste per capita, with almost all of it coming from the oil shale sector. Nearly one-third of the country's nearly 31 million metric tons of garbage is hazardous waste.

The population of Estonia is approximately 1.3 million people.

5. Finland

Finland's population is 5.5 million people. Its estimated annual waste per capita was 16.6 metric tons and the country's estimated annual waste total was 91,698,449 metric tons in 2017. Finland is one of the richest countries in the world. The housing sector has experienced a huge boon as a result of low mortgage rates and growing city centers. An increased demand for new buildings, especially small apartments, has exploded in these urban areas.