Dealing with the world’s problem with waste has hit a critical point, and something drastic needs to be done about it which will have involve widespread systemic changes.
In 2019, the world threw away around 300 million tons of plastic, which is nearly equivalent to the weight of the human population. Scientists expect there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. One year’s electronic waste weighs in at more than 50 million tons. And while far too many people still go hungry, we waste a third of all the food produced.
Altogether, more than 100 billion tons of resources flow into the economy every year, and more than 60% ends up as waste or greenhouse gas emissions.
While COVID-19 made a significant dent in global consumption, it’s not a clear-cut picture. Clothing sales plummeted, but home office and exercise equipment purchases went up; spending in the hospitality industry went down, but groceries increased. The use of single-use plastics increased significantly, while plummeting oil prices reduced the economic incentive for plastic recycling.
The 2008 recession showed us that any fall in consumption is likely to be temporary without a concerted effort to make longer-term changes.
This isn’t only about consumers buying too much and recycling too little. Our global economy is built on a “take-make-waste” model where natural resources are extracted, used, and then end up as waste. This inefficient model is pushing our planet to the brink, driving the climate crisis, and depleting the resources we need to support more equitable and thriving communities in the future.
We thank the World Resources Institute for the information they have provided and for helping to increase the awareness of the issues that the world’s waste are causing for the health of people and the environment.