Waste management involves sharing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials that we used to discard. But before any of these are possible, waste management involves something even more important; thinking about the circular economy.

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The circular economy phrase is used to draw attention to the equation of production and consumption. We’re no longer in the stratospheric altruism of the concept of sustainability, but getting closer to thinking about actionable goals that will help us achieve sustainability.

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On average, approximately two billion metric tons of waste is generated every year. This is expected to increase in the coming decades, putting added pressure on the waste management industry.

Roughly two billion metric tons of waste is generated every year.

Since the 1980s, countries around the world exported huge volumes of trash to China to be recycled, but in 2018 China imposed a ban on foreign waste imports. This has pushed countries to improve recycling and collection, as well as adopt a more circular economy with sustainable practices like up-cycling and zero-waste lifestyles.

Since the 1980s, China imported trash from around the world to be recycled, but in 2018 it imposed a ban on foreign waste imports.

Recycling our waste management

The stories of real mobilization and optimism around waste management will only happen if we shift up a gear in our behavior in this still consumerist society. This is where waste management steps into the spotlight and makes it easy to do more.

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In 2019, the global waste management market value surpassed $2 trillion, and is expected to continue to grow. By 2027, the market value is projected to increase by roughly $300 billion. The growth in the market can be attributed to improved waste collection, as well as the increasing waste volumes in emerging markets.

By 2027 the global waste management market will reach $2.3 trillion.

We can all support these promising forecasts when we shop more carefully, ask more questions, reject more plastics when we can and ensure that our conscious and conscientious practices of waste disposal become automatic habit to us and unquestioned acts to our children.

According to Statista, recycling currently accounts for less than 15% of municipal solid waste treatment worldwide. High processing costs are causing setbacks, as well as many countries lacking household collection and sorting facilities and not all materials being recyclable. Waste is also usually disposed of in incorrect bins or contaminated with food, which results in large quantities of potentially recyclable materials ending up in landfills or spilled into the ocean.

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Recycling currently accounts for less than 15% of municipal solid waste treatment worldwide.

Global waste management wins and losses

One particular bright spot on the planet is Croatia. They’ve managed to corral an eco-army that starts at government level and includes commercial waste operators, the manufacturing sector, construction, telecoms, tourism and healthcare and the unblinking eye of the media to ensure that by 2035, 65% of urban waste can be recycled and re-used. Yet Germany tops in recycling in 2022 globally with the highest recycling rate in the world. The nation recycles more than 66% of its waste.

Germany recycles more than 66% of its waste, the highest recycling rate in the world.

South Africa has created a host of ‘wastepreneurs’, by recycling 46% of plastic waste, 70% of paper, 70% of beverage cans and 42% of glass.

NEOM, the new mega city being built in Saudi Arabia is providing a masterclass of dropping waste management right into urban lifestyle, through intelligent segmentation of consumption types and waste categories such as mixed recyclables, organic waste and non-recyclables. Although urban communities in NEOM will be cognitive, meaning that the infrastructure will adapt to human behavior.

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The average US citizen generates around 4.4 pounds of trash each day, twice as much as the global average, which is around 2.6 pounds each day. These US figures show that 4% of the world’s population generates 12% of the total trash production.

The average US citizen generates around 4.4 pounds of trash each day, twice as much as the global average.

Future lessons on waste management

The concept of waste management is the product of an evolved state of human intelligence and is something of a tribute to our progress, yet the need for authorities to provide adequate waste treatment and disposal services has become ever more important to continue to manage waste that’s growing more every day.

Every year, humans produce trillions tons of waste and with such large volumes arising all countries need to set an example to make waste management simple, fast and rewarding for generations to come.

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