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Atlas of Anthropogenic Waste Created by Lydia Hooper GEOG 4081/Spring 2011

Anthropogenic: originating in human activity

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Reuters

Table of Contents: Municipal Waste Hazardous Waste Waste Trade Carbon Dioxide Emissions Nuclear Waste Organic Water Pollutants Oceanic Garbage What Can You Do? About This Atlas Atlas of Anthropogenic Waste

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Industrialiation and consumerism has led humans all over the world to expend all sorts of materials, eventually casting them into thier surroundings. Some of these substances may prove to be hazardous to them in the long-term. Through thier throw-away habits, people are harming the soil, water and air that they need to survive, thus they are harming themselves.This atlas attempts to study various activities and types of waste to demonstrate both the broad geographic impact as well as the numerous manners in which we are producing it. Some of the following pages will reveal the limited data available for the specified types mentioned herein, but there are others still which are not included for the data cannot keep up with the speed of its development. New forms of waste like electronic waste (pictured left) and biomedical waste pose even greater threats, yet are just now being considered by some agencies to be a cause for concern. For obvious reasons, there are even greater difficulties in finding data on how much energy, water, and food are not used, though they may be spent (for example, lights left on in an empty house, water left running while brushing teeth, or leftovers thrown in the garbage). Even in the production and transmission of energy, a portion is lost irrevokably (see graph below). Human-generated waste is something that has come to be accepted and yet is not understood as a pressing concern. Because of this, it is hard to quantify the exact amounts of by-products and materials which are deemed unuseable on a daily basis. Furthermore, data related to these commonplace activities is not often gathered, so it is also rare that it is analyzed, thus further perpetuating this unconscious behavior. The good news is that because these are human-generated wastes, they can be reduced if we choose to recognize and make necesabove graph courtesy: UNEP GRID-Arendal sary changes. cover image: page 2


Municipal Waste The map below display what is most commonly referred to as waste: trash or garbage discarded by the residential sector. Because many regions of the world do not have trash collection infrastructure, some of the data depicted represents only a portion of the country’s population. Most industrialized nations also have infrastructure for recycling some materials, but that represents a small amount of what is generated. According to the EPA, the materials collected in the U.S. are (in decreasing amounts): paper, yard trimmings, food scraps, plastic, metals, rubber/textiles, wood and glass. courtesy: UNEP GRID-Arendal

Municipal Waste Collected (1,000 tons per year) 12 - 3,220 3,221 - 10,332 10,333 - 26,154 26,155 - 54,367 54,368 - 222,863 No Data

By latest year available (98-07). Source: UN Statistics Division

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Hazardous Waste Generation (1,000 tons per year) 0.09 - 3,706 3,706 - 11,786 11,786 - 34,788 34,788 - 62,910 62,910 - 139,193

No Data By latest year avail (95-07). Source: UN Statistics Div.

Hazardous Waste The majority of waste from the industrial and manufacturing sector is considered hazardous. The products we buy, as well as the packaging they come in, have been made in factories, and most of those factories release by-products of thier processes into the environment. Heavy metals, chemicals, and other toxic substances are categorized as hazardous for thier potent properties. courtesy: UNEP GRID-Arendal

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Waste Trade Hazardous waste is one type of waste that in recent years has caused concern for industrialized nations in particular. Storage and management of these wastes is costly and inconvenient, so many countries have arranged to trade or sell thier wastes to other countries whom may look to profit in some way from this developing enterprise. The Basel Convention is an international treaty that addresses the regulation of these trades, but many are still executed outside of legal parameters.

The Netherlands


Germany 4 150

Amounts of exchanged waste Thousand tonnes


1 300


Only countries receiving or sending more than fifty thousand tonnes are shown.

Major waste exporters declared as “countries of origin” in the reporting of imports by other Parties to the Convention.

1 200 1 100 1 000 900

Major waste receivers declared as “countries of destination” in the reporting of exports by other Parties to the Convention.

Source: Basel Convention, 2006 (data for 2003).



United States




France Spain

Austria Sweden Norway Finland

Sweden United States

600 Russian Federation



United Kingdom

Belarus Kazhakstan Ukraine


Portugal United Kingdom

Countries reporting to the Basel Convention in 2003


400 Ukraine

The Netherlands



Luxembourg Denmark


Switzerland Austria Denmark

100 Singapore

Caution: results may vary significantly between tables (reported imports or exports). This could be mainly due to some differences in classification of wastes and/or reporting of non-hazardous wastes. Germany, for instance, is reported as the destination of 4 150 thousand tonnes of waste by other member countries but only reports imports totalling 1 500 thousand tonnes.

The Netherlands


all courtesy: UNEP GRID-Arendal (bottom two: Vital Waste Graphics 2)

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Carbon Dioxide Emissions The map below represents only one type of emissions that is exhausted into the air. Carbon Dioxide, the largest component of Greenhouse Gases, primarily comes from the energy sector of the economy. Although it is non-toxic, it is associated with climate change and ocean acidification. Other major air pollutants produced by humans include sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (including methane), particulate matter, persistent free radicals, toxic metals, chlorofluorocarbons (currently banned), and ammonia.

CO2 emissions from energy consumption (million metric tons) 0.01 - 100 101 - 329 330 - 765 766 - 1,591 1,592 - 7,706 No Data

Source: US Energy Info Administration, 2009.

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1:40,000,000 0

65 215

1697 12



123 410

2378 1150


674 78


57 46



Spent Fuel Arisings




(tons of heavy metal per year) 12 - 122 123 - 409 410 - 1,149 1,150 - 1,696

Nuclear Waste

1,697 - 2,378 None

Source: OECD, 2005.

The most controversial of all, nuclear waste, is produced by only 17 nations. Nuclear energy production generates several types of radioactive waste, many of which are difficult to measure and most of which pose long-term threats. Spent nuclear fuel is that which has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor usually at a nuclear power plant. This type of waste requires extensive treatment and management in order to isolate, store, and dispose of it with minimal risk. The United States has at least 108 contaminated sites. Internationally, there has been limited advancement toward long-term waste management solutions.

Courtesy: Scientific American

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Organic Water Pollutants (kg emitted per day) 45 - 61,565 61,566 - 20,8441 208,442 - 578,173 578,174 - 1,122,694 1,122,695 - 1,889,365

No Data By latest year available (89-06). Source: The World Bank.

Organic Water Pollutants Some experts have claimed that water pollution is the leading cause of disease and death worldwise, accounting for more than 14,000 deaths daily. Water pollution can come from a variety of sources, including urban, agricultural and industrial runoff as well as soil contaminants that seep into aquifers and groundwater. Organic water pollutants include pesticides, fuels, solvents, detergents, and cosmetics, while inorganic pollutants include fertilizers, ammonia, heavy metals, silt and chemical wastes. Atlas of Anthropogenic Waste

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Oceanic Garbage Not only do the oceans absorb all of the excess atmospheric carbon, they also recieve all the waste that washes out of soils and streams across the globe. In addition to this, trash that litters beaches or falls from commercial marine vessels is collected by the currents. Two large areas have been discovered so far in which plastic debris is coalesced inside a gyre, whose depth extends several yards beneath the surface. Some of these nondegradable fragments are mistakenly consumed by marine birds and animals, which can result in thier starvation.

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consumption. Buy less. Buy products with less packaging. Buy organic foods. Support businesses that value minimal environmental impact. Use only what you need, especially energy and water.



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What can you do?


Reuse what you do buy as much as you can instead of

or before tossing it out. Buy second-hand. Compost your food scraps. Use bathwater to water plants.

Recycle whatever you must toss if at all possible. Be

sure materials such as paint, medications, and electronics are disposed of properly and ethically.

Rethink. Tell your government you want stricter

regulation and more zero-waste policies. Advocate for cleaner, more efficient energy technology.

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About This Atlas This atlas is international in scale, because anthopogenic impact comes from all over the globe, not just one continent. The data has not been normalized for population or area, as the intention is to show how much waste is being generated not to compare nations. However, since that will likely happen, the data was classified using natural breaks in order to show the greatest variability between countries. All maps utilize a Robinson compromise projection and a base map from the U.S. National Atlas.


Atlas of Anthropogenic Waste  

by Lydia Hooper

Atlas of Anthropogenic Waste  

by Lydia Hooper