By the turn of the century India could catch up with some of the world’s most affluent countries in at least one indicator of urban growth: garbage production.

In the next 12 years alone, South Asia — and “mainly India” — will be the fastest growing region for waste generation, says a paper published today (Oct 31) in Nature. Garbage generation in South Asia will increase eight-fold by year 2100 to reach two million tonnes a day, bringing the region at par with the conglomerate of the world’s 34 most developed countries including U.K., U.S., Australia and Japan, which make up Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

By 2100 “India's total waste generation will be 70 per cent of all the high income and OECD countries put together,” Perinaz Bhada-Tata, co-author and solid-waste consultant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, told this Correspondent.

While India's per capita waste generation rate will still be lower than most affluent countries, “the sheer size of its population and expected increase in urbanization and a rapidly-expanding middle class,” will account for the colossal amount of waste it generates in total, she added.

With India becoming the most populous country in the world before 2030 and its projected economic growth rate, “it is likely only a matter of time before India is the world’s largest municipal solid waste generator,” Daniel Hoornweg, lead author and associate professor of energy systems at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Canada, told this Correspondent.

“A country's total solid waste is a function mainly of the number of middle class (and above) who almost all live in cities... India will probably surpass the U.S. and then China as the world's single largest solid waste generator,” he added.

The research paper describes the staggering trajectory of global urban growth and waste generation over the last century.

In 1900, the world’s 220 million urban residents produced less than 300,000 tonnes of rubbish per day, comprising relatively innocuous “broken household items, ash, food waste and packaging” per day. 

By 2000, 2.9 billion people were living in cities; and by 2025 garbage production will reach 6 million tonnes a day, a quantity that will be “enough to fill a line of rubbish trucks 5,000 kilometres long every day.”

The world’s cities together will be producing garbage in excess of 11 million tonnes per day by 2100, which is over three times today’s figure. 

However, “as city dwellers become richer, the amount of waste they produce reaches a limit,” says the paper.

While the authors do not believe that this ‘peak’ will happen this century, they say that through a move to stabilise population growth, manage cities better, and with greater equity and use of technology, the peak could come forward to 2075. “This would save around 2.6 million tonnes per day.”