3.4 billion tonnes of waste will be generated annually by 20501
45 million waste management jobs could be created by 2030 in a circular economy scenario2
15 – 20 % reduction in emissions through zero-waste strategies3

About this sector

Waste generation is the fastest-growing environmental pollutant and is projected to reach 3.4 billion tonnes per year by 2050. The World Bank estimates that 33% of the waste currently produced globally is not managed adequately and this share is projected to increase as generation increases. Mismanaged waste is a source of air and water pollution, a vector for diseases, a cause of urban flooding, loss of value and material resources, and a significant source of GHG emissions.

Waste disposal is responsible for 3-5% of the overall direct GHG emissions in cities and those are projected to increase from 1.12 billion tonnes today to 2.38 billion tonnes of CO2e per year by 2050. 97% of those emissions are in the form of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas and climate forcer, emitted when organic waste breaks down in open dumps or landfills without gas collection. Because methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas, reducing its emissions would see impact within this generation. This is a particularly urgent opportunity for Global South cities where the organics content of waste is highest, and action taken here will improve its economic development, reduce social and climate vulnerability, reduce operational and opportunity costs, while extending the operational lifetime of disposal sites.

When approached from a systems perspective, addressing waste management upstream can contribute to global emissions reductions of  15-20% by avoiding waste generation and diverting waste from disposal through recycling and treatment, and using the byproducts to offset resource extraction emissions or the utilization of carbon intensive materials like chemical fertilizers.

Substantial innovation is occurring in the waste sector, as many cities take steps towards a future without waste – prioritizing avoidance of waste generation, by creating sharing libraries and repair facilities, recovering resources through large-scale organics and food waste composting, and only disposing of residual wastes.

Embracing  a circular approach to materials management can boost innovation, job creation and lead to a much-needed decrease of the use of primary resources, taking responsibility for global impact of local waste management practices. 

In San Francisco, everything we do has to be looked at through the lenses of three themes: economic recovery, health and equity. It’s not a hard stretch as those lenses actually work really nicely with the waste reduction goal. We are, for example, working on potential options such as repurposing under-utilised space for an eco-park or a golf course that’s right next to public housing into an urban farm.

Debbie Raphael, Director, San Francisco Department of Environment

By understanding the benefits and disadvantages of various waste management approaches, technologies and models, local decision-makers can best allocate resources, select projects and vendors and develop policies and procedures to meet the community’s needs. This will also contribute to reducing emissions, increasing equity, and improving the environment, economy and public health.

  1. Kaza, Silpa; Yao, Lisa C.; Bhada-Tata, Perinaz; Van Woerden, Frank. 2018. What a Waste 2.0 : A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. Urban Development;. Washington, DC: World Bank.
  2. International Labour Organization. (2018). World employment and social outlook 2018: Greening with jobs.
  3. Eunomia (2015) The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy.

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