Display of poorly managed plastic waste by country
Plastic is one of the most useful materials around, but its proliferating use has created a huge pile of plastic waste, with more than 350 million tons generated every year.
Only a fraction of plastic waste is recycled and around a fifth ends up in the poorly managed category, which means it is dumped or thrown in the trash without proper waste management practices. Poorly managed plastic waste threatens the terrestrial and marine environment and most of it does not decompose, polluting the environment for hundreds of years.
The above infographic shows the biggest contributors to poorly managed plastic waste in 2019, based on data from a study by Meijer et al. published in Science advances magazine.
Major contributors to poorly managed plastic waste
Asian countries account for the majority of mismanaged plastic waste (MPW), and many of the major plastic-emitting rivers are concentrated in the region.
India and China are the only countries to take into account 10 million tons of MPW, although this may be partly determined by the number of inhabitants.
|Country / region||MPW created in 2019 (tons)||% of the total|
|North America 🌎||1,927,484||3%|
|Democratic Republic of Congo 🇨🇩||1,369,730||2%|
|South Africa 🇿🇦||708.467||1%|
In general, the top countries in the table above are developing economies which tend to have inadequate waste management infrastructure.
The Philippines are the third largest contributor and represent 37% of all MPWs released into the ocean upon completion 350,000 tons per year. Solid waste management remains a major environmental problem in the Philippines. The country recently closed 335 illegal landfills to encourage the use of sanitary landfills and adequate segregation of waste.
The three continents of North America, Europe and Oceania together account for only 5% of mishandled plastic waste in the world. However, it is important to note that these figures do not reflect the amount of waste that is exported overseas, and many wealthy nations are known to export some portions of their waste to poorer nations.
The state of the plastic waste trade
In 2019, the Philippines sent 69 containers of unloaded waste back to Canada, joining other nations in rejecting waste from rich countries.
Until 2017, China was the largest overseas plastic waste importer, accounting for roughly 50% of global imports of plastic waste. Hence, it imposed an import ban on almost all types of plastic waste, resulting in a decline in the global trade in plastic scrap.
In 2021, global imports of plastic waste were just over a third of 2017 levels. However, countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam have imported more plastic waste since the Chinese ban, slightly offsetting the impact.
Poorly managed plastic waste per capita
On a per capita basis, the Comoros archipelago in East Africa tops the list. Its MPW per capita is equivalent to over 4,500 500ml empty plastic bottles per person, per year.
|Village||MPW per capita||GDP per capita (2021, current US dollars)|
|Comoros 🇰🇲||150 lbs (68 kg)||$ 1.495|
|Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹||115 lbs (52 kg)||$ 15,243|
|Suriname 🇸🇷||86 lbs (39 kg)||$ 4,836|
|Philippines 🇵🇭||81 lbs (37 kg)||$ 3,549|
|Zimbabwe 🇿🇼||78 lbs (35 kg)||$ 1,737|
Although there is not much information available on waste management in the Comoros, it is one of the least developed nations in the world. 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 the lack of waste segregation between households, coupled with 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 since it can take hundreds of years to decompose.
Millions of tons of plastic waste flow into the oceans every year, at least accounting for 85% of all marine litter. This poses a major threat to aquatic life because fish and other organisms can become entangled in plastic waste and ingest plastic.
On earth, plastic waste threatens the quality of the soil and the surrounding ecosystem. In addition, burning plastic waste releases toxic particles which negatively impact air quality.
If current trends continue, that’s it 12 billion tons of plastic waste is expected to end up in landfills by 2050. While recycling rates are expected to improve, increasing the availability of adequate waste management systems will be important to prevent plastic waste from entering the environment.