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Visualizing Mismanaged Plastic Waste by Country

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mismanaged plastic waste around the world by country

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Visualizing Mismanaged Plastic Waste by Country

Plastic is one of the most useful materials around, but its proliferating use has created a ballooning heap of plastic waste, with more than 350 million tonnes generated each year.

Only a fraction of plastic waste is recycled, and about one-fifth ends up in the mismanaged category, meaning that it is dumped or littered without proper waste management practices. Mismanaged plastic waste threatens the land and marine environments, and most of it doesn’t decompose, polluting the environment for hundreds of years.

The above infographic visualizes the largest contributors of mismanaged plastic waste in 2019, based on data from a study by Meijer et al. published in the Science Advances journal.

The Largest Contributors of Mismanaged Plastic Waste

Asian countries account for the majority of global mismanaged plastic waste (MPW), and many of the top plastic-emitting rivers are concentrated in the region.

India and China are the only countries to account for over 10 million tonnes of MPW, although that could partly be driven by their sheer population numbers.

Country/RegionMPW created in 2019 (tonnes)% of total
India 🇮🇳12,994,10021%
China 🇨🇳12,272,20020%
Philippines 🇵🇭4,025,3007%
Brazil 🇧🇷3,296,7005%
Nigeria 🇳🇬1,948,9503%
North America 🌎1,927,4843%
Tanzania 🇹🇿1,716,4003%
Turkey 🇹🇷1,656,1103%
Egypt 🇪🇬1,435,5102%
DR Congo 🇨🇩1,369,7302%
Thailand 🇹🇭1,361,6902%
Pakistan 🇵🇰1,346,4602%
Europe 🌍1,179,8812%
Vietnam 🇻🇳1,112,7902%
Bangladesh 🇧🇩1,021,9902%
Indonesia 🇮🇩824,2341%
Malaysia 🇲🇾814,4541%
Sudan 🇸🇩781,6251%
Algeria 🇩🇿764,5781%
South Africa 🇿🇦708,4671%
Venezuela 🇻🇪671,4311%
Cameroon 🇨🇲578,7981%
Oceania 🌎136,5060.2%
Other 🗺7,828,31213%
Total61,773,700100%

Generally, the top countries in the above table are developing economies that tend to have inadequate waste management infrastructure.

The Philippines is the third-largest contributor and accounts for 37% of all MPW released into the ocean at over 350,000 tonnes per year. Solid waste management remains a major environmental issue in the Philippines. The country recently closed down 335 illegal dumpsites to encourage the use of sanitary landfills and proper waste segregation.

The three continents of North America, Europe, and Oceania together account for just 5% of global mismanaged plastic waste. However, it’s important to note that these figures do not reflect the amount of waste that is exported overseas, and many rich nations are known to export some portions of their waste to poorer nations.

The State of Plastic Waste Trade

In 2019, the Philippines famously shipped back 69 containers of dumped garbage back to Canada, joining other nations in rejecting waste from rich countries.

Until 2017, China was the largest importer of overseas plastic waste, accounting for roughly 50% of global plastic waste imports. Then, it imposed an import ban on almost all types of plastic waste, resulting in a decline in the overall global plastic scrap trade.

​​

In 2021, global plastic waste imports were just over one-third of 2017 levels. However, countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam have been importing more plastic waste since China’s ban, slightly offsetting the impact.

Mismanaged Plastic Waste Per Capita

On a per capita basis, the archipelago of Comoros in East Africa tops the list. Its per capita MPW is equivalent to over 4,500 empty 500ml plastic bottles per person, per year.

CountryMPW per capitaGDP per capita (2021, current US$)
Comoros 🇰🇲150lbs (68kg)$1,495
Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹115lbs (52kg)$15,243
Suriname 🇸🇷86lbs (39kg)$4,836
Philippines 🇵🇭81lbs (37kg)$3,549
Zimbabwe 🇿🇼78lbs (35kg)$1,737

While there isn’t much information available on waste management in Comoros, it is one of the world’s least-developed nations. In fact, household consumption accounts for almost 100% of its annual gross domestic product.

Trinidad and Tobago is an outlier due to its high-income status, but a lack of waste segregation among households, alongside inefficient waste management systems, contributes to its high per capita figure.

The Impact of Plastic Waste

Plastic waste has various negative implications for the environment, especially as it can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Millions of tonnes of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year, accounting for at least 85% of all marine garbage. This poses a major threat to aquatic life because fish and other organisms can get entangled in plastic waste and ingest plastics.

On land, plastic waste threatens the quality of the soil and its surrounding ecosystem. Additionally, burning plastic waste releases toxic particles that have a detrimental impact on air quality.

If current trends continue, over 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste is expected to end up in landfills by 2050. Although recycling rates are expected to improve, increasing the availability of adequate waste management systems will be important in preventing plastic waste from entering the environment.

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The Frequency of Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S.

The Maui fire is the latest of many disasters in the U.S. And data shows that frequency of costly weather disasters has increased.

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disasters in the u.s.

Frequency of Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S.

Wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui have had devastating effects on people, towns, and nature, and the final cost is nowhere near tallied. They are the latest of many climate disasters in the U.S.—and data shows that their frequency has been increasing.

These graphics from Planet Anomaly use tracking data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to show the average number of days between billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. from 1980 to 2022.

Methodology

NOAA’s database examines billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in America. Total associated damages and costs for each event are adjusted for inflation using the 2023 Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Disasters are categorized as one of seven different types:

  • Drought: Prolonged dry spells resulting in water shortages and reduced soil moisture.
  • Flooding: Overflow of water inundating land usually due to intense rainfall or melting snow.
  • Tropical Cyclone: Intense rotating storm systems known as hurricanes.
  • Severe Storm: Includes windstorms and tornadoes, hail, lightning, and heavy precipitation.
  • Winter Storm: Heavy snow, freezing rain, and icy conditions impacting transportation and infrastructure.
  • Wildfire: Uncontrolled fires consuming vast areas of forests and vegetation.
  • Freezes: Sub-zero temperatures damaging crops and infrastructure, such as pipes or energy lines.

The average days between billion-dollar disasters are calculated from the start dates of adjacent events within a single year.

Days Between Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S. (1980‒2022)

Between 1980 and 2022, there were 155 total disasters in the U.S. that cost more than a billion dollars in damages when adjusted for inflation.

And when looking at the average number of days between these billion-dollar events within each year, we can see the decades becoming more and more costly:

YearAvg. Days Between Disasters
198060
1981113
198285
198366
198478
198548
1986104
1987N/A
1988N/A
198947
199074
199171
199244
199344
199454
199546
199673
1997111
199839
199964
200064
200130
200251
200334
200423
200547
200639
200735
200823
200933
201040
201116
201230
201330
201430
201536
201620
201713
201819
201918
202014
202118
202220

Back in the early 1980s, the average interval between these major disasters (within each year) was 75 days. Even more starkly, 1987 had no climate disasters that topped $1 billion in damages, while 1988 only had one.

Fast forward to 2022, and that average window has drastically reduced to a mere 20 days between billion-dollar disasters in the United States.

Breaking Down Billion-Dollar Disasters by Type

Of the 155 disasters tracked through 2022, the majority have been in the form of severe storms including tornadoes, windstorms, and thunderstorms.

charting breakdown of costly natural disasters in the u.s.

The worst severe storms include an outbreak of tornadoes in April 2011 across many central and southern states, with an estimated 343 tornadoes causing a total of $14 billion in CPI-adjusted damages. In August 2020, a powerful derecho—a widespread and intense windstorm characterized by straight-line winds—devastated millions of acres of crops across the Midwest and caused $13 billion in adjusted damages.

But the most expensive disasters so far have been hurricanes. Eight hurricanes top the inflation-adjusted damages charts, with Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented devastation in 2005 leading with a staggering $194 billion.

Will the U.S. be prepared for more costly disasters going forward? And will climate change continue to accelerate the pace of weather disasters in the U.S. even more?

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