Positive Environment News

FACTBOX - Conquering the World's Waste Mountains

Date: 27-Aug-08

But at the same time, the world is also seeking to reduce the mountains going into landfill by encouraging people to recycle more before it is thrown away, according to a Reuters survey of collection in major cities worldwide.

Here are some facts and figures about the world's waste:

World household rubbish output is projected to rise to about 3 billion tonnes a year by 2030 from 1.6 billion tonnes in 2005 -- or about 1 kg (2.2 lbs) per person per day in 2005, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Richer nations send about half their trash to landfills but the rate is expected to fall to 40 percent by 2030 as governments promote recycling, for instance of metals, glass and paper, or incineration to generate heat or electricity.

No country has hit upon a magic clean-up formula with policies varying widely. Countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark are among the best performers with least sent to landfills, according to the OECD.

In poorer nations, people are more careful about what they throw away but most trash that is collected goes to landfills.

Here is a sample of how major cities are tackling trash:


Almost all bins in Beijing on the streets and in housing complexes are separated into recyclable and non-recyclable compartments, but public awareness is still relatively low so they are often filled with a mix of all kinds of rubbish.

Much of the real recycling is done by migrant workers, often using heavily loaded tricycles, who collect everything from paper to bottles and styrofoam for resale. They sell the waste, usually by weight, to middlemen with trucks.

The Beijing city municipal administration commission says 88 percent of waste goes to landfills.


Since the Fresh Kills Staten Island dump closed in 2001, New York City has exported 45,000 tonnes per day of trash to states as far away as Ohio. Barges and trains take away most of the trash. The loads were once carried by trucks, but rising fuel and emissions costs have led to the shift.

About 30 percent of the waste stream is diverted through recycling. That makes New York a leader among cities on the East Coast, but a laggard compared to major cities on the West Coast. A 5 cent bounty for most beverage containers has led to a small recycling industry in which the young, old and homeless carry enormous bags and carts of bottles to collection areas.

Businesses are required to stack cardboard for recycling, with mixed results when it rains. Recycling of New York City paper and plastic are sputtering industries on the outskirts of the city. As tipping costs at faraway landfills rise, trash is becoming a bigger headache for New York.


Collections vary by district. The south eastern London borough of Bexley is one of the greenest, composting or recycling 40 percent of household waste. Residents are given green, maroon and black boxes to separate out paper and card, cans and plastic bottles and glass. These are collected fortnightly. Brown bins, collected weekly, are used for garden and kitchen waste for composting. Since 1994 Bexley council has offered households subsidised composting bins.

Charities also collect textiles and shoes. Every month the council runs a "Nappachino's" morning to persuade young mothers to use fabric nappies that can be re-used.

Britain's first food-grade plastics recycling plant was opened in London in June. The "closed loop" plant processes polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, used for water and drinks bottles, and high-density polyethylene (HDP). It has the capacity to recycle 35,000 tonnes each year.


Rubbish collection in the Kenyan capital is dominated by small private operators who run decrepit trucks. They stop at apartment complexes and street corners to collect rubbish that they then take to landfills, where some of it is burned. The cost of a twice-weekly collection is usually included in the rent for upscale apartments, while poorer city-dwellers pay a few shillings (US cents) a week for the service.

Much of the waste makes its way to one of Africa's biggest rubbish mountains, Nairobi's 30 acre (12.14 hectares) dump at Dandora. Last year, the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme launched a campaign calling for a clean-up at Dandora, which it said receives 2,000 tonnes of garbage a day, seriously harms the health of local children and is polluting the city. People scavenging at the dump are most at risk.


Households in Tokyo generally divide garbage into recyclable, combustible and non-combustible waste. New technology at trash-burning plants allows residents to throw out most plastics, leather and rubber as "combustible" waste, making life easier for residents since combustible waste is collected twice a week, while the rest is collected only once a week.

Recyclables include plastic bottles, aluminium cans and glass. Newspapers and magazines must also be bundled up separately to be picked up once a week. There is no charge for collections, with the exception of oversized trash such as furniture and electrical appliances.

In Japan as a whole in 2005-06, 19.7 percent of trash was sent for recycling, 77.4 percent to incineration, some of it generating electricity, and just 2.9 percent to landfills such as in Tokyo Bay, according to the Environment Ministry.


Households dispose of garbage at sites in housing developments. The containers often overflow with rotting food, nappies and broken furniture and packs of semi-feral dogs which roam the city sometimes tear through the bags and spread waste.

The rubbish is sent to both landfill sites and incinerators -- the government aims to build another six incinerators by 2012 at a cost of US$2.5 billion, according to environmental group Greenpeace which opposes the planned siting of incinerators near Moscow suburbs.

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

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