Solid waste and the circular economy – a global analysis of waste treatment and waste footprints

Tisserant A, Pauliuk S, Merciai S, Schmidt J, Fry J, Wood R, Tukker A (2017)

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Journal of Industrial Ecology 21(3):628–640


Detailed and comprehensive accounts of waste generation and treatment form the quantitative basis of designing and assessing policy instruments for a circular economy (CE). We present a harmonized multiregional solid waste account, covering 48 world regions, 11 types of solid waste, and 12 waste treatment processes for the year 2007. The account is part of the physical layer of EXIOBASE v2, a multiregional supply and use table. EXIOBASE v2 was used to build a waste-input-output model of the world economy to quantify the solid waste footprint of national consumption. The global amount of recorded solid waste generated in 2007 was approximately 3.2 Gt (gigatonnes), of which 1 Gt was recycled or reused, 0.7 Gt was incinerated, gasified, composted, or used as aggregates, and 1.5 Gt was landfilled. Patterns of waste generation differ across countries, but a significant potential for closing material cycles exists in both high- and low-income countries. The European Union (EU), for example, needs to increase recycling by approximately 100 megatonnes per year (Mt/yr) and reduce landfilling by approximately 35 Mt/yr by 2030 to meet the targets set by the Action Plan for the Circular Economy. Solid waste footprints are strongly coupled with affluence, with income elasticities of around 1.3 for recycled waste, 2.2 for recovery waste, and 1.5 for landfilled waste, respectively. The EXIOBASE v2 solid waste account is based on statistics of recorded waste flows and therefore likely to underestimate actual waste flows.

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