More economic growth means more waste to get rid of, or at least that has been the case so far, with a 40% increase in municipal waste in OECD countries between 1980 and 1997 to some 500 kilos of it per person per year.
A key environmental question for the future is therefore decoupling economic growth from the increase in waste, according to the latest OECD Environmental Outlook. True, the average growth rate of municipal waste production has slowed from about 3% per year in 1980 to about 1% in 1990, perhaps partly due to policies to minimise waste production. And the proportion of waste that is recycled is expected to almost double to 33% by 2020 from 18% in 1997.
But if current trends continue, the total amount of municipal waste generated in OECD countries during that time is forecast to grow even faster, rising by a further 43% to 640 kilos per person (about the size of a small rhinoceros) or a total 770 million tonnes per year. And in non-OECD countries, municipal waste generation is expected to increase roughly at the same rate as GDP, which means that by 2020 it would be double the 1995 level, or around 1,300 million tonnes per year.
©OECD Observer No 226/227, Summer 2001