World waste: statistics by country and brief facts

By Daniil Filipenco

World waste: statistics by country and brief facts

Have you ever wondered how much garbage and rubbish there is on Earth? When disposing of their daily trash, most people do not give any further thought to where it goes and what happens to it. But a greater insight into waste could provide us with a different attitude towards a variety of issues, ranging from our consumption patterns to the environmental footprint we leave behind.

Just think about this: every minute, 3,825 tons of municipal waste are produced and collected. The largest share of this huge volume ends up in landfills or on open dump sites, putting enormous pressure on the environment and wildlife habitats. Unfortunately, on the whole, people have not yet acknowledged the danger of overconsumption and overproduction and while businessmen, politicians, activists and scientists argue about how to reduce, reuse, and recycle, each country faces tons and tons of waste to deal with.

In this article, we’ll briefly describe the waste-related numbers and figures behind your daily cup of coffee, meal, and even daily shower.

Short facts about the global waste

Annually, our planet becomes home to about 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), and that figure is anticipated to reach 3.40 billion in about 30 years (a 70% increase).

According to the World Bank, high-income nations will show a daily per capita waste increase of 19%, while the same figure for low- and middle-income will be 40% or more.

  • MSW is garbage composed of all the items that people use on a daily basis, including food packaging, clothes, bottles, leftover food, papers, electronics, and batteries.
  • Despite all the recycling technologies in use, less than 20% of waste is recycled annually, with the remaining 80% becoming part of landfill sites.

With about 18% of the planet’s population, China is the largest generator of MSW globally, accounting for over 15% of the total. However, when we consider the amount of waste per capita, the ranking completely changes, with another country topping the list.


According to the Global Waste Management Outlook 2024 produced by UNEP, the production of municipal solid waste will increase by nearly 2 billion tons and hit 3.8 billion tons by 2050. If waste management problems are not addressed immediately, the cost could almost treble by 2050 to an astounding US$640.3 billion (in 2020, this was US$252 billion).

World’s largest landfills and dump sites

Located near the famous city of Las Vegas, USA, the Apex Regional Landfill holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s biggest landfill covering an area of 2,200 acres (890 hectares) which can be compared to 1,250 football pitches. Opened in 1993 its anticipated life expectancy is 250 years.

The other two biggest landfills are:

  • Bordo Poniente located in Mexico City, Mexico with an area extending to 927 acres or 375 hectares
  • Laogang, found in Shanghai, China covers a total area of 830 acres or 335 hectares.

Landfill sites are usually situated far from cities. Very few people care about waste sorting and waste disposal as long as it is done in an “invisible” way. However, they could be made aware of the magnitude of the issue simply by being shown how much of their unsorted waste goes to landfill. It is therefore interesting to take a look at how much waste is being disposed of annually at the top 10 landfill sites.

The three biggest sites in terms of the area covered are not the same as the top three sites in terms of annual waste disposal volume. That said, here is the list of the largest landfills in terms of annual volume of waste:

Source: Statista

Over the course of a year, around 7.3 million tons of waste is delivered to the Mesquite landfill site near Brawley in the United States with this figure surpassing any other landfill site in the world.

As for the largest landfill site in terms of area, Apex Regional is listed in fifth place, handling more than 3.3 million tons of waste annually.

Top countries in terms of waste production worldwide

The United States comes first in the list of countries with the highest amount of daily per capita MSW with 2.58 kg, followed by Canada (2.33 kg/per capita) and Australia (2.23 kg/per capita).

The United States was placed 25th in the Global Waste Index of 2022 on the basis of waste production, incineration, and landfill use. At the same time, the United States is still the biggest waste per capita producer.

As for the country with the least waste produced annually per person, this is Colombia with 243 kg per capita.

Global Waste Index: Data on waste generation and recycling

One of the latest available data-aggregating reports, the Global Waste Index 2022, analyzes and describes the way the most developed countries in the world, namely the 38 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) generate and recycle their waste (all data is provided in kg/person).

It would be worth noting that the study analyzed a number of factors to come up with the results. These factors include landfill usage, recycling initiatives, as well as long-term strategies developed for waste handling.

Note that waste incineration is better than landfill in terms of environmental impact. With this in mind just 17 nations from the list incinerate more than they landfill with South Korea, Denmark, and Germany being among them.

Several countries, including those in the top 3, take pride in their advanced waste management processes as well as having impressive recycling levels, with Germany frequently hailed as a recycling world champion.

  • South Korea on average generated 400 kg/person of waste, of which over half was recycled, 88 kg/person incinerated and 46 kg/person landfilled.
  • Denmark, which came second, moving up a whopping 11 positions, generated more than twice the amount of waste compared to South Korea – 845 kg per person, of which more than 30% was recycled, 382 incinerated, and just 7 kg/person landfilled.
  • Germany – third on the list – generated over 630 kg/per person and recycled almost half of this, incinerated just below 30%, and landfilled 4kg/person.

Turkey, Latvia, and Chile were among the worst OECD nations in terms of waste management, all generating almost the same amount of waste per person – over 420 kg. Chile recycled just 2 kg; 1 kg was incinerated, with over 410 kg landfilled. Latvia managed to recycle 155 kg of waste per person, incinerated just 13 kg/person, and landfilled over half of its waste. As for Turkey, the recycling rate was 47 kg/person, over 340 kg/person was landfilled and almost 175 kg was left in open dump sites.

Let’s take a closer look at all the countries in the study:


Unfortunately, data for the United States has not been updated since the previous issue of the index (2019). Back then, the country ranked first in terms of per capita waste generation – on average each resident produced over 800 kg of MSW per year. Although the US accounts for about 4% of the global population, it generates 12% of MSW.

Turkey consistently ranks as the top ‘landfilling’ country among the 38 nations analyzed, with 176 kg of trash per capita being sent to landfill every year. At the same time, because of the low level of waste management system development, data shows that only 47 kg/person is recycled annually in the country.

The latest data shows that less than half of all OECD members burn more waste than they landfill.

Final word

It is obvious that the largest economies and most populated countries such as China and the United States generate the most waste in the world. At the same time, significant effort is being made by governments to achieve environmental sustainability. However, with overconsumption, the trend is difficult to change and data shows that by 2050, advanced nations will register a 19% increase in daily per capita waste, while low-income countries will generate double that amount.