Which countries produce the most plastic waste?

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Per person, the US and UK produce more plastic waste than any other major country, according to new research

Plastic waste is polluting the entire planet. It has been found in the Mariana Trench (the deepest point in the ocean), falling from the sky in Arctic snow, embedded in Antarctic ice and secreted in the Alpine soils of Switzerland.

The UN Environment Programme has said that if current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

It is widely recognised that plastic harms wildlife, but concern is also growing about the volume of microplastics humans consume in their food and water. One study found that the average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year. Plastic fibres have even been found in 83% of tap water around the world.

A container ship loads plastic waste on board
Parilov/Shutterstock Exporting plastic waste conceals a country’s true impact

Previous research has suggested that Asian countries, particularly those with coastal communities, are responsible for the highest quantities of plastic pollution with China, Indonesia and Vietnam among the worst culprits.

However, a recent report drawing on World Bank data and published in the journal Science Advances suggests that the US and UK produce the most plastic waste per person than any other major country.

“Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away… If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.”

UN Environment Programme

Unlike previous studies, the latest report assessed how much plastic waste is exported as well as how much littering and illegal dumping takes place. Drawing on data from 2016 – the latest available – the report shows that over half of plastic waste collected for recycling in the US was exported overseas. Researchers said that years of exporting had concealed the US’s immense contribution to plastic pollution.

Other high-income countries such as the UK, South Korea and several European Union nations also have large plastic waste footprints per capita.

“The US is 4% of the world’s population, yet it produces 17% of its plastic waste. The US needs to play a much bigger role in addressing the global plastic pollution crisis.”

Nick Mallos, Ocean Conservancy

Even though China and India may have the world’s largest populations, and China may be the world’s largest manufacturer of plastic, both countries rank behind the US in terms of generating plastic waste. And when it comes to plastic waste generation per capita, China and India are ranked 18th and 19th respectively.

It’s worth noting that even among the worst offenders there are large disparities. The UK’s close neighbour France produces just under 44kg of plastic waste per person – less than half of that generated by Britons – even though the two countries have similar-sized populations.

France has taken a proactive stand against single-use plastic, including the introduction of a penalty scheme that increased the cost of non-recyclable plastics and banning plastic packaging for nearly all fruit and vegetables from 2022. The disparity clearly demonstrates what can be achieved through more stringent government policy.

Countries with the highest total plastic waste production

The 20 countries with the highest total plastic waste production, measured in metric tons.

  1. USA, 34,020,748 metric tons
  2. India, 26,327,933
  3. China, 21,599,465
  4. Brazil, 10,675,989
  5. Indonesia, 9,128,000
  6. Russia, 8,467,156
  7. Germany, 6,683,412
  8. UK, 6,471,650
  9. Mexico, 5,902,490
  10. Japan, 4,881,161
  11. Thailand, 4,796,494
  12. South Korea, 4,514,186
  13. Italy, 3,365,130
  14. Egypt, 3,037,675
  15. France, 2,929,042
  16. Pakistan, 2,731,768
  17. Argentina, 2,656,771
  18. Algeria, 2,092,007
  19. Malaysia, 2,058,501
  20. Spain, 1,832,533

Plastic waste Per capita

Among the 20 nations with the highest total plastic waste production, the US and UK produce the most plastic waste per person, per year. Roll over the map below to reveal a country’s per capita plastic waste generation in kilograms.

  1. USA, 105kg per person, per year
  2. UK, 99kg
  3. South Korea, 88kg
  4. Germany, 81kg
  5. Thailand, 70kg
  6. Malaysia, 67kg
  7. Argentina, 61kg
  8. Russia, 59kg
  9. Italy, 56kg
  10. Brazil, 52kg
  11. Algeria, 52kg
  12. Mexico, 48kg
  13. France, 44kg
  14. Spain, 39kg
  15. Japan, 38kg
  16. Indonesia, 35kg
  17. Egypt, 32kg
  18. India, 20kg
  19. China, 16kg
  20. Pakistan, 13kg

Complete ranking

Below is the complete ranking of the countries that produce the most plastic waste. The table can be sorted by total plastic waste production in metric tons (t) or waste production per person, per year, in kilograms (kg).

RankCountryPopulationTotalPer capital
1Micronesia110,21533,974308
2Palau17,7253,017170
3Hong Kong SAR7,336,6001,199,187163
4St. Kitts & Nevis51,6257,744150
5Iceland335,43948,572145
6Singapore5,607,283807,202144
7Mongolia3,056,359420,500138
8Aruba104,87213,899133
9Moldova3,551,954462,287130
10Kuwait3,956,873458,078116
11Israel8,546,000958,005112
12Luxembourg582,01464,974112
13UAE9,360,9801,028,556110
14Switzerland8,373,338911,616109
15Barbados285,79630,569107
16USA323,071,34234,020,748105
17Trinidad & Tobago1,377,564140,174102
18Montenegro622,30362,544101
19UK65,595,5656,471,65099
20St. Lucia180,02417,23996
21Croatia4,174,349385,68692
22Bahamas377,93134,31391
23Oman4,479,219405,08190
24South Korea51,245,7074,514,18688
25Ireland4,755,335391,49682
26Brunei Dar.419,80034,60082
27Germany82,348,6696,683,41281
28Netherlands17,030,3141,251,11473
29Greece10,775,971789,09273
30Kazakhstan17,794,0551,281,50572
31Malta455,35632,45371
32Thailand68,971,3314,796,49470
33Cyprus1,170,18781,47370
34Solomon Is.619,43742,95069
35Nauru13,04988868
36Malaysia30,684,8042,058,50167
37Estonia1,315,79088,50067
38Andorra77,2974,92664
39Qatar2,654,374167,33263
40Austria8,736,668542,46162
41Argentina43,590,3682,656,77161
42Russia144,342,3968,467,15659
43Taiwan23,557,0001,392,82859
44Belgium11,331,422663,51159
45Tuvalu11,22565859
46New Zealand4,693,200270,55058
47Italy60,627,4983,365,13056
48Saudi Arabia32,442,5721,810,10156
49Slovenia2,065,042115,62856
50Seychelles94,6775,33856
51Belarus9,501,534507,33453
52West Bank & Gaza4,367,088231,30753
53North Macedonia2,080,745110,72553
54Belize368,40019,46453
55Brazil206,163,05810,675,98952
56Algeria40,551,4042,092,00752
57Bulgaria7,127,822370,49352
58Kiribati112,5245,89452
59Liechtenstein37,6581,91651
60Portugal10,325,452512,05750
61Hungary9,814,023483,04649
62Bahrain1,425,79170,44449
63Macao SAR612,83629,85749
64Mexico123,333,3765,902,49048
65Grenada110,2615,30748
66Jordan9,551,467446,94147
67Lithuania2,868,231134,04347
68Antigua & Bar.94,5274,32146
69Panama4,037,078181,99345
70France66,859,7682,929,04244
71Jamaica2,906,238128,30744
72Australia24,190,9071,035,08443
73Mauritius1,263,47354,25443
74Serbia7,058,322295,23042
75Bosnia & Herz.3,386,267141,87942
76Uruguay3,424,132139,88141
77Dominican Rep.10,397,743420,27640
78Spain46,483,5691,832,53339
79Venezuela29,846,1791,160,80139
80Chile18,209,068707,90339
81Albania2,876,101113,09939
82Japan126,994,5114,881,16138
83Ecuador16,491,115607,14837
84Lebanon6,711,121247,11237
85Slovak Rep.5,430,798199,50037
86Guyana771,36628,75037
87Colombia48,171,3921,728,87336
88Indonesia261,554,2269,128,00035
89Poland37,970,0871,341,57235
90Honduras9,270,795311,54834
91Costa Rica4,899,345167,85834
92Latvia1,959,53766,60034
93Nicaragua6,303,974205,54833
94Egypt94,447,0723,037,67532
95Paraguay6,777,872214,18932
96Romania19,702,332615,75631
97Peru30,926,032919,22230
98Dominica71,3072,16730
99Guatemala16,583,060488,39629
100Zimbabwe14,030,390413,80229
101Sweden9,923,085291,29229
102San Marino33,50496229
103Rwanda11,668,818328,87328
104Libya6,492,164181,48228
105El Salvador6,356,143178,68728
106Mauritania4,163,534114,59828
107Tunisia11,303,946303,84627
108Haiti10,839,970293,35127
109Bhutan736,70919,84427
110Kenya49,051,6861,279,84326
111Cabo Verde531,14613,70726
112South Africa56,203,6541,425,32325
113Cuba11,335,109270,53324
114St. Vincent & Gren.109,4592,66824
115Tonga101,1332,39224
116Ukraine45,004,6451,053,52323
117Angola28,842,484651,92823
118Cote d'Ivoire23,822,714541,45323
119Azerbaijan9,757,812228,30423
120Canada36,109,487769,98421
121Bolivia11,031,813232,09221
122Kyrgyzstan6,079,500126,05921
123Namibia2,358,04149,17621
124India1,324,509,58926,327,93320
125Iraq36,610,632738,89920
126South Sudan10,832,512214,11920
127Tajikistan8,663,579176,17920
128Gabon2,007,87339,58520
129Kosovo1,816,20035,56120
130Marshall Is.57,7351,12720
131Iran79,564,0161,500,58519
132Zambia16,363,507305,19819
133Armenia2,936,14657,17419
134Eswatini1,113,98421,38419
135Djibouti929,11217,52119
136Samoa194,5353,76519
137Yemen27,168,210483,68218
138Congo4,980,99987,63518
139Central African Rep.4,537,68783,04118
140Fiji872,39915,47118
141China1,378,665,00021,599,46516
142Myanmar53,045,226856,96116
143Uganda39,647,506636,50616
144Morocco35,126,296570,10216
145Togo7,509,952116,94616
146Eq. Guinea1,215,17919,44716
147Suriname564,8889,08716
148Vanuatu278,3304,53016
149Philippines103,663,9271,543,66815
150Vietnam93,638,7241,404,87315
151Tanzania53,050,790814,51115
152Syrian17,453,933269,48015
153Senegal14,993,528220,86515
154DR Congo78,789,1271,078,89214
155Maldives475,5136,74014
156Pakistan203,627,2842,731,76813
157Burkina Faso18,646,378239,32713
158Papua New Guinea8,271,760105,24113
159Denmark5,728,01072,89613
160Guinea-Bissau1,782,43722,32313
161Sao Tome & Prin.203,2272,64613
162Monaco38,07050713
163Turkey79,821,724959,51512
164Somalia14,185,613174,45712
165Eritrea4,955,00058,06912
166Liberia4,586,78854,22112
167Afghanistan35,383,128405,25411
168Madagascar24,894,380282,65711
169Botswana2,159,94424,74111
170Gambia2,149,13922,63111
171Nepal27,261,131267,82310
172Burundi10,487,998103,25310
173Norway5,234,51949,87810
174Nigeria185,960,2891,659,5029
175Sudan39,847,440371,1239
176Sri Lanka21,203,000180,7019
177Benin10,872,067102,3019
178Timor-Leste1,219,28810,5399
179Sierra Leone7,328,83862,1908
180Ghana28,481,946211,5187
181Mozambique27,829,942198,3657
182Chad14,561,66698,7467
183Czech Rep.10,566,33274,5737
184Finland5,495,30340,1597
185Georgia3,727,50525,6377
186Malawi17,205,289106,1406
187Cambodia15,766,29399,7486
188Comoros795,5924,6576
189Bangladesh157,970,840764,9515
190Cameroon23,926,539119,5185
191Uzbekistan31,847,900115,5654
192Niger20,788,83885,6284
193Lesotho2,075,0018,6224
194Guinea11,738,44137,6473
195Laos6,845,84622,2323
196Mali17,965,42944,1522
197Turkmenistan5,662,37212,4002
198Ethiopia103,603,501154,7431

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