Even though many businesses and municipal governments have policies requiring reductions in waste sent to landfills, about three-quarters of what humans throw away worldwide still winds up there.
In 2010, the US recycling rate inched up to 34.1%.
Unfortunately, instead of prioritizing waste reduction, recycling and composting, many landfill operators and communities are investing in thermal waste-to-energy projects that turn trash into fuel source.
More than 800 plants have been built to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into base load power and heat, and that number will grow rapidly over the next decade, predicts Pike Research.
The recycling industry is also responsible for millions of jobs, unlike waste-to-energy plants.
Still, at least 261 million tons of MSW will be converted into energy each year by 2022, says Pike in its "Waste-to-Energy Technology Markets" report. And it could be as much as 400 million tons a year.
"Ten years from now the world’s rapidly increasing urban population will generate nearly 3 billion tons of MSW per year, representing an estimated 240 gigawatts of untapped energy potential," says senior research analyst Mackinnon Lawrence.
"The escalation in waste generation presents policy makers with a difficult choice: either expand existing landfill capacity (an unappealing, but low-cost option in many areas) or invest in new waste-to-energy capacity, which can reduce the overall volume of waste that must be dumped."
China, known for its open-pit landfills, is reaching capacity quickly and is encouraging waste-to-energy plants by paying more for electricity generated from them than it does for coal-generated power.
Overall, the Asia Pacific region is expected to account for 54% of electricity generated from waste-to-energy systems worldwide.
Read our report on the Recycling Industry: