60-Second Earth

Can the World Reach Peak Waste?

If the world's growing population embraces a throwaway culture, human civilization may drown in garbage. David Biello reports

I probably throw away my own weight in garbage each month. That's the average for an American city dweller.

Urbanites like me create roughly twice as much trash as our rural counterparts. We city folk the world over produce three million metric tons of garbage each day.

And in the next decade or so, the amount of garbage worldwide could double. That's partly because more and more of us are living in cities—and there are more and more of us around.

In order not to live amidst ever higher landfills like in WALL-E, people will have to waste less. This can be done: The average Japanese urbanite makes just a third the trash produced by the average American, like yours truly.

We'll all have to turn Japanese if the world is to reach so-called “peak waste” before 2100. Peak waste refers to some highest ever amount of garbage produced daily, which then, it’s hoped, begins to fall. On current pace, garbage production could rise beyond 11 million metric tons per day by the end of this century. If we haven’t peaked by then, we could be living in garbage.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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