Skip to navigation
Skip to content

Urban Physical Waste Generation

Urban waste generation

Around the world, waste generation rates are rising. According to the World Bank1 in 2012, the worlds’ cities generated 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year, amounting to a footprint of 1.2 kilograms per person per day.

With rapid population growth and urbanization, municipal waste generation is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.

Key words:

  • Domestic waste - waste generated from household rubbish.
  • Commercial waste - waste produced by businesses such as offices, manufacturing industries, restaurants, schools
  • Unregulated waste disposal - where waste is dumped without any laws, rules or regulations covering its safe disposal
  • Waste management - the management of garbage through a variety of methods including reduction, recycling, composting, incineration, landfilling, etc.
  • MSW - Municipal Solid Waste, covers household waste and waste similar in nature and composition to household waste consisting of everyday items that are discarded by the public
  • Waste - Unwanted or unusable material, substances, or by-products. Solid municipal waste services are provided within urban areas but the quality of those services and the way in which waste is handled varies massively.

The manner in which urban areas deal with waste really matters because;

  1. As waste decomposes it gives off Methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas. The waste sector accounted for 3.1% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK2
  2. It costs a huge amount of money to deal with waste - globally, solid waste management costs will increase from today’s annual $205.4 billion to about $375.5 billion in 20253
  3. Landfill space is running out
  4. Whilst a valuable source of employment, some of the conditions that workers who deal with waste work in are appalling. The World Bank estimate that there are two million informal waste pickers globally. 
  5. Health problems such as Dengue fever, Cholera and Diarrhoea can result if waste goes untreated or uncollected

The problem of waste in cities

Human beings create an incredible amount of waste, and the problem seems to be even worse within our cities. If you think about your own home, you can consider the amount of waste that needs to be dealt with. On a weekly basis you or the council needs to deal with:

  • Your refuse and general waste from your bins, plastics, metals, food wastes;
  • Waste water from cleaning, dishwashers, washing machines;
  • Waste Water from your toilet;
  • Emissions from your energy needs.

Imagine now that this needs to be repeated for thousands of people in your town, or tens of thousands/ hundreds of thousands/millions of people in your city! As the world's population size has grown waste generation has increased rapidly. In the Twentieth century waste production increased tenfold due to urbanisation, industrialisation and rising population. This doesn't include any of the wastes from the industrial processes that take place in cities either. In HICs our cities are not growing so fast or their growth has slowed, and we have had many decades to establish organised systems to get rid of our waste. In LICs the problem is much more difficult to deal with, especially given the rapid growth of these cities and the informal nature of some of the development, where people construct their own homes in squatter or shanty developments. One such LIC city is Mumbai. Can we continue to produce so much waste and not expect consequences?

Waste generation patterns3:

Urban waste by income level globally

  • In 2002 - there were 2.9 billion urban residents who generated about 0.64 kg of MSW per person per day (0.68 billion tonnes per year).
  • In 2012 - there were 3 billion residents generating 1.2 kg per person per day (1.3 billion tonnes per year).
  • By 2025 - there will likely be 4.3 billion urban residents generating about 1.42 kg/capita/day of municipal solid waste (2.2 billion tonnes per year).
  • According to the British Government we generate about 228 million tonnes of waste every year in England alone (based on 2012 figures). The UK dumps about half of its municipal rubbish into landfill sites, while Germany buries just 1% in holes in the ground.
  • Low Income countries -generate 219kg of waste per person per year (2010)
  • High Income Countries - generate 777kg of waste per person per year (2010)

Sources of Waste in Urban areas:

Sources of urban waste

Source – (3, page 22)

Reasons for increasing production of waste:

  1. Population is increasing globally, so there are more people to produce waste.
  2. Many countries are industrialising and improving standards of living, wealthier people produce more waste
  3. The development of a throw away culture - a human society strongly influenced by consumerism. The term describes a critical view of overconsumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable items over durable goods that can be repaired.
  4. Built in obsolescence - when a product is deliberately designed to have a specific life span. This is usually a shortened life span. This means that customers are inclined to replace products rather than repair them.

NEXT TOPIC - Environmental impacts of waste management


1 – The World Bank (2019), Solid Waste Management. Accessed 12th January 2020 at

2 - The Committee on Climate Change (2014) Factsheet:waste. Accessed at

3 - WHAT A WASTE A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, The World Bank, 2012. Accessed 12th January 2020 at

Posted by Rob Gamesby April 2020



Hot Wired IT Solutions Logo