Which Countries Produce the Most Plastic Waste?
Mar 14 2022
It’s undeniable that the human race has an unhealthy obsession with plastic pollution. Over the last 70 years, over eight billion tonnes of the stuff have been consumed by us, with only a small fraction of that amount recycled responsibly. The remainder is sent to landfill or, worse yet, allowed to contaminate our seas and oceans. Once there, it can have a devastating impact on marine organisms and degrade the natural environment.
What’s more, the process of producing plastic generates substantial volumes of carbon emissions, which is why reducing our plastic consumption is one of the key ways we can follow the lead of climate scientists and battle climate change. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the five countries which produced the most plastic waste in 2010, which is the most recent year for which data is available.
Responsible for almost eight million tonnes of plastic waste each year, Japan has an above-average consumption rate for plastic per capita. Some people have attributed this to the national obsession with hygiene, which can result in food items and other products being wrapped in several layers of plastic. What’s more, the fact that the country boasts over 18,000 miles of coastline means that it’s far easier for the waste to end up in the sea, where it can inflict untold damage on the landscape and the animal kingdom.
With the sixth biggest population on the planet, Brazil generates the fourth largest amount of plastic at 11.8 million tonnes of the stuff each year. Depressingly, a pitifully low proportion of this figure is recycled; experts say that just 1.28% of the plastic created in Brazil finds a new lease of life. 7.7 million tonnes are destined for landfill, while several more millions of tonnes simply float out to sea.
Germany has the 19th biggest population in the world, but generates almost 15 million tonnes of plastic waste per year – the third largest of any country on the planet. That makes it one of the highest consumers of the stuff per capita, with each German citizen estimated to generate 0.46kg of plastic waste every single day. That’s at odds with a country which prides itself on its forward-thinking policies, which is why former Chancellor Angela Merkel targeted the issue with a five-point plan in 2018.
Notorious for its capitalist and consumerist society, it’s no surprise to see the USA at number two on this list. It generated 37.8 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2010 and it is rumoured that the country burns six times more the amount of plastic waste than it recycles. Meanwhile, it’s also been widely reported that the US exports much of its recycling to developing countries in Asia, where standards are more relaxed (although it’s far from the only major Western power to take this shortcut).
Given that it’s home to over 1.4 billion people – or over a sixth of the global population – it’s only logical that China would be the biggest producer of plastic pollution in the world. The country generates over 59 million tonnes of plastic waste each year which, although it dwarfs the figures of its nearest competitor, actually makes China one of the lowest producers of plastic per capita. Nonetheless, the Chinese government has made strides towards tackling the problem, introducing bans on single-use plastics in all towns and cities which are set to come into effect this year.
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