Waste management

The global market for waste is worth $410 billion, and not all of it is legal.

Safely disposing of hazardous waste is an expensive undertaking, so some people decide to just ship it to other (usually poorer) parts of the world.

This is against the law, but unfortunately it’s still a common practice. And it poses serious risks to human health.

The problem is especially pronounced with electronic waste, up to 90% of which is illegally traded or dumped each year.

For centuries, we’ve had a “take, make, waste” approach to economic growth, and now we’re suffering the consequences.

Humanity used an estimated 90 billion tons of resources in 2017. More than 50% of that was dispersed or emitted as waste, while less than 10% was put back into the economy.

Our appetite for the latest gadgets is driving a steep rise in electronic waste, which most likely amounted to about 50 million tons in 2018, nearly a 50% increase in under a decade.

Below, you can explore the regional breakdown of how much we extract every year – from biomass to fossil fuels, metals, waste rock and minerals for construction and industry. Between the 1950s and the 2010s, the total amount we extracted increased fivefold.

We need to shift to a circular economy, one that uses waste as a resource. So how do we get there?

Governments need to create incentives for companies to design for the future. They should also impose new taxes on the use of virgin materials.

Companies need to start targeting the wasteful “hotspots” in their value chains, and find creative new ways to put their waste to use. They should also design their products so that they can be easily recycled or repurposed after consumers are finished using them.

Consumers need to be more conscientious about how they buy, and how much they throw away. They need to make use of their local recycling options — if they’re lucky enough to have them — and demand stronger action and higher standards from their governments and retailers.

Building a world that can safely and humanely sustain 10 billion people is perhaps the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced.

We can get there, but only if we prioritize the health of our planet.

To start, we should focus on fundamentally changing three essential systems: food, energy and waste. These transformations will not be easy, but they will offer enormous opportunities for those who are ready to seize them.

What’s at stake is life, and society, as the majority of us know it and enjoy it today. We have no time to lose.