China Leads the Garbage

By Ethan Goffman

June 19, 2012

As the one of the world’s fastest growing economies, China recently overtook the United States in greenhouse emissions and now appears to be ahead in household waste: some 250 million tons a year, according to Elizabeth Balkan of Emergence Advisors. She was speaking last week at Energizing China’s Waste, a forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Piled 400 feet high, Balkan explained, China’s trash cornucopia is enough to span 1,000 acres every two or three years, enough to fill up the Great Pyramid. To be fair, since China has four times the population of the United States, the Chinese have a long, long way to go to reach us in per capita household waste. Still, the Chinese experience has important lessons for countries seeking to develop, and those facing population pressures.