Americans produce 200 million tonnes of municipal waste a year - equivalent in mass to a herd of 17 million male elephants. As GDP increases it would appear that waste increases: Americans produce 45% more waste today than in 1996. It is argued that degradation is likely to continue due to global population growth, rapid economic growth in major developing economies and continued high consumption rates in industrial countries. Additionally humans are finding new ways to create waste: it is estimated that if the amount of e-waste produced every year was put into containers on a train, it would stretch round the world once. And by 2020, the carbon emissions produced in generating energy for the Internet will be equal that of the airline industry.
That is not to say that there cannot be a turnaround. The city of Hamburg in Germany has had a very ambitious waste management programme with the amount of garbage being recycled increasing 12-fold over the last nine years. At the same time the amount of waste produced has declined even though the city's population has increased. In the future, there may be more regulation and incentives to encourage less wasteful behaviour. There could also be more innovative solutions. As the quest for alternative energy sources continues, entrepreneurs are looking for economically viable ways to turn waste into fuel.
This is part of Outsights 21 Drivers for the 21st Century ™, a future-orientated scan of the 21 key forces shaping this century.