Peak Waste: When is it Likely to Occur?

Population and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) projections are used to estimate total global municipal solid waste (MSW) generation over the twenty-first century. Some projections for global population suggest that it will peak this century. Waste generation rates per capita generally increase with affluence, although in the most affluent countries there is also a trend toward dematerialization. The confluence of these factors means that at some point in the future total global waste generation could possibly peak. To determine when peak waste might occur, we used the shared-socioeconomic pathway scenarios (used in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] studies) combined with estimates of municipal solid waste (MSW) generation rates, extrapolated from our work for the World Bank. Despite the expectation that total MSW generation in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and high-income countries will peak mid-century, with current trajectories global peak waste is not expected before 2100. The peak could be moved forward to around 2075 and reduced in intensity by some 30% if a more aggressive sustainability growth scenario were followed, rather than the current business-as-usual scenario. Further, the magnitude of peak waste is sensitive to the intensity of waste generation; it could vary from 7.3 to 10.9 megatonnes per day under the sustainability scenario. The timing of peak waste will substantially depend on the development of cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth rates are more than double the rest of the world.

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