THelper's excellent answer to the question "What is current best practice for setting up recycling?" includes a chart showing that New Zealand sends nearly 100% of its garbage to landfills. In a follow-up, THelper shared this link: "Countries Who Produce the Most Garbage", which shows that 11 of the top 13 garbage-producing nations (per capita) are island nations:

  1. Kuwait, 5.72 kilograms per capita per day
  2. Antigua, 5.50 kilograms per capita per day
  3. St. Kitts and Nevis, 5.45 kilograms per capita per day
  4. Guyana, 5.33 kilograms per capita per day
  5. Sri Lanka, 5.10 kilograms per capita per day
  6. Barbados, 4.75 kilograms per capita per day
  7. St. Lucia, 4.35 kilograms per capita per day
  8. Solomon Islands, 4.30 kilograms per capita per day
  9. Tonga, 3.71 kilograms per capita per day
  10. New Zealand, 3.68 kilograms per capita per day
  11. Ireland, 3.58 kilograms per capita per day
  12. Vanuatu, 3.28 kilograms per capita per day
  13. The Bahamas, 3.25 kilograms per capita per day

Why do island nations produce so much garbage per person?

The source is cited as "World Bank data," and would seem to be this report: "What a Waste : A Global Review of Solid Waste Management".

Regarding the high per capita figures for islands, the report says:

The countries with the highest per capita rates are islands, likely due to waste generated by the tourism industry, and a more complete accounting of all wastes generated.

Does this explanation stand up to scrutiny? I'm skeptical that these two factors alone could account for such consistently high rates for islands.

1 Answer 1


I think you are asking the wrong question. I've had a look at that report, threw some of the data into a spreadsheet and noticed the following:

10/13 of the smallest (sub-100,000 population) nations in the world make up half of the Top-20 most garbage-generating nations in the world (per-capita).

It just so happens that small islands can generally only support small populations.

I think a better question would be "Why do SMALL nations generate so much garbage?"

Whilst some of the characteristics of islands (e.g. isolation, tourism) no doubt contribute to the high waste production rate, I would wager that the core of the issue revolves simply around scale.

Another interesting thing from the report was the nature of the waste produced: The fraction of waste that was organic ranged from a low of 28% for 'High income' countries to 64% for 'Low income' countries. Basically, people in richer countries produce more of the 'bad' type of garbage — the type that doesn't decompose quickly — than people in poorer countries.

Only 1 out of the 13 smallest nations was classified as 'Low income'. Only 1 out of the 20 most garbage-producing countries was classified as 'Low income'. That one country, in both cases, was Vanuatu — an outlier in the data, it would seem. In Vanuatu it is private companies that handle waste — not government. Hmmm...

Note: The report was written in 2012 and aggregated data stretching back at least as far as 2001 so the current numbers are likely to have changed quite a bit.

  • Interesting... did you happen to look at any other factors, such as land area or population density? I can imagine the latter having a significant impact also.
    – LShaver
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:14
  • Makes sense. It'd be interesting to see some of those details/data in your answer.
    – LShaver
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:24
  • 1
    That extra detail added. I actually conflated smaller/poorer and larger/richer in my comment, so I've deleted it to avoid confusion. I really hate how you only have five minutes to edit comments.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:49

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