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The Year of waste: 2019-2020

In 2018, the World Bank published What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, an alarming report that details the effects of rapid urbanization and population growth on the world’s production of waste. 

The report predicts that without immediate action, global waste will grow by 70% by 2050—to 3.4 billion tons of waste annually—harming human health, contaminating local environments, creating economic uncertainty and exacerbating climate change. 

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around 3.4 billion tons of food, plastic, paper, metal, glass, rubber, electronics, medical supplies, construction materials, clothing and chemicals—never mind the actions required to reduce that number. And it doesn’t help that efficient removal systems keep waste out of sight and out of mind in industrialized nations while countries with fewer resources bear the brunt of the global trash problem. Americans may not see or fully comprehend the scope of the world’s waste predicament, but, quite frankly, it’s a mess. 

The World Bank’s report is not all doom and gloom, however. Solutions exist, it concludes, but governments and individuals around the world must take seriously the threats presented by global waste and work together to implement change. 

So, during the 2019-2020 year, the Isdell Center for Global Leadership (ICGL) is asking the school community to get on board the change bandwagon and think critically about Waste, the sixth annual ICGL global theme. 

Using as a framework the ICGL’s five organizational centers—Science & Technology, Culture & Arts, Social Entrepreneurship & Business, Community Engagement & Environmental Sustainability, and Public Policy & International Relations—students, faculty and families are exploring Waste from a variety of age-appropriate angles. Previous years’ themes of Water, Food, Climate, Conservation and Energy serve as the foundation as we read and research; unplug and upcycle; hear from scholars, experts and advocates; travel the world; and attempt to clean up our lives, our city and our global community. 

Fast Facts
  • Every year, humans generate 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste.
  • High-income countries account for only 16% of the world’s population but generate approximately 34% of its waste.
  • In the U.S., paper and paperboard products are the largest percentage—25.9%—of municipal solid waste; plastic products account for 13.1%, or 34.5 million tons.
  • Solid-waste management makes up 20% percent of municipal budgets in low-income countries; in high-income nations that number is 4%.
  • In 2015, 137.7 million tons of solid waste went to U.S. landfills—22% of that was food. 


Kaza, Silpa; Yao, Lisa C.; Bhada-Tata, Perinaz; Van Woerden, Frank. 2018. What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. Urban Development, Washington, DC, World Bank

Ann M. Simmons, April 22, 2016. The World’s Trash Crisis, and Why Many Americans are Oblivious. Los Angeles Times.

United States Environmental Protection Agency, National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling, 2015.

Meet Our Isdell Global Leaders

As the Pace community explores the issues surrounding the ICGL 2019-2020 global theme of Waste, seniors SOPHIE LETTES and REKHA SASHTI and juniors TOMMY ASSAF and JACK BROWN are leading the charge.

Selected as this year’s Isdell Global Leaders (IGLs) after an in-depth application process, the cohort of upperclassmen is in the midst of a year-long study of Waste that includes coursework, research and two travel opportunities. 

Led by Director of the ICGL TRISH ANDERSON and Associate Director of the ICGL TED WARD, the IGLs use their insights and experiences to inform their work on campus as they help educate the Pace community regarding the waste-related issues facing the world today. 

Recommended Reading

Outsmart Waste: The Modern Idea of Garbage and How to Think Our Way Out of It by Tom Szaky, 2019-2020 ICGL Visiting Scholar 

The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling, by Alison Inches  

The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, by Rose George

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, by Edward Humes

The Waste Crisis: Landfills, Incinerators, and the Search for a Sustainable Future, by Hans Y. Tammemagi

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, by Bea Johnson