These Countries Produce the Most Plastic Waste

Humans have produced about 8 billion tons of plastic since 1950, and more than half of it went straight to landfills. Of all of the plastic that's no longer in use, only about 9% was actually recycled.

Much of the plastic that isn't recycled or sent to landfills is believed to end up in the ocean. Scientists estimate that 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons enter the ocean in a year.

The average American tossed out about 12 ounces of plastic each day in 2010, the equivalent of about 26 average-size water bottles.

If that seems like a lot, it is. High-income countries tend to generate more plastic waste per person, according to a report on plastic pollution by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser of Our World in Data. But while high-income countries usually have well-managed waste streams and therefore lower levels of plastic pollution to external environments, plastic waste still enters rivers and oceans, especially from coastal populations (defined as within 50 kilometers of a coastline.) As a result, the U.S. produces a whopping 275,000 tons of plastic litter each year with high risk of polluting surrounding rivers and the ocean, according to the report.

Global plastic waste disposal has changed over time: there was virtually no recycling of plastics prior to 1980, while in 2015, an estimated 20% was recycled. Even so, the trend indicates that recycling would increase to only 44% by 2050, the report states.

Based on the September 2018 report "Plastic Pollution," these are the countries that produce the most plastic waste, plastic that is not recycled or incinerated. The figures represent total plastic waste generation prior to management, not necessarily the amount polluting the environment. The report also provides data on per-capita plastic waste as well as the amount of plastic litter from coastal populations at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Data are from 2010.

1. China
1. China

1. China

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 59.8 million tons

Despite being the No. 1 producer of plastic waste in the world, the daily plastic waste per person per day in China is one of the lowest at .12 kilograms a day - that's about 4 ounces of plastic a day per person.

However, China produces more than 231,000 tons of plastic litter each year - plastics with a high risk of polluting surrounding rivers and the ocean. It's still less than the U.S., but more than almost all other countries.

Above, a man transports recyclable materials in Beijing in 2017.

Photo: testing / Shutterstock

2. United States
2. United States

2. United States

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 37.83 million tons

In the U.S., the daily plastic waste per person per day is .34 kilograms, about 12 ounces a day. As for litter, the U.S. produces more than 275,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually. The U.S. is the third largest country in the world. Above, a man searches through trash in a waterway in Las Vegas near the strip.

Photo: John Dvorak/Shutterstock

3. Germany
3. Germany

3. Germany

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 14.48 million tons

Germany's daily plastic waste per person, per day is one of the highest in the world, at .46 kilograms (that's a little over a pound a day.) Germany produces about 31,239 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually. Above, plastic cups litter the street during the Berlin Marathon in September 2018.

Photo: Soeren Schulz / Shutterstock

4. Brazil
4. Brazil

4. Brazil

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 11.85 million tons

Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world, produces about 90,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually. Above, workers sort plastic packaging in Sao Paulo.

Photo: Alf Ribeiro / Shutterstock

5. Japan
5. Japan

5. Japan

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 7.99 million tons

Japan, which has than 18,000 miles of coastline, produces more than 143,000 tons of plastic litter annually. Above, trash cans at the Anpanman children's museum and mall in Kobe, Japan.

Photo: t0zz / Shutterstock

6. Pakistan
6. Pakistan

6. Pakistan

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 6.41 million tons

Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world. Above, a market in Karachi.

Photo: Leif Stenberg / Shutterstock

7. Nigeria
7. Nigeria

7. Nigeria

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.96 million tons

Nigeria is the seventh largest country in the world. Above, an illegal refuse dump in the middle of a busy road slows down traffic in Lagos, Nigeria.

Photo: ariyo olasunkanmi / Shutterstock

8. Russia
8. Russia

8. Russia

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.84 million tons

Above, trucks unload garbage to a landfill near the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Photo: Shutterstock

9. Turkey
9. Turkey

9. Turkey

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.6 million tons

Above, a sculpture made from trash collected from the sea in Bodrum, Turkey.

Photo: OZMedia / Shutterstock

10. Egypt
10. Egypt

10. Egypt

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.46 million tons

Above, a child runs along a beach littered with used plastic bottles on the Red Sea.

Photo: Juliya Shangarey / Shutterstock

11. Indonesia
11. Indonesia

11. Indonesia

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.05 million tons

Indonesia generates just under 78,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Above, a monkey licks a plastic bag found at Baluran National Park, in East Java, Indonesia.

Photo: Shutterstock

12. United Kingdom
12. United Kingdom

12. United Kingdom

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.93 million tons

The U.K. produces more than 68,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Pictured is the beach at Birling Gap near Eastbourne, site of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs.

Photo: Shutterstock

13. Spain
13. Spain

13. Spain

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.71 million tons

Spain generates 49,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Above, a seagull sculpture made from plastic trash in Los Silos, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.

Photo: Guillermo Enrique Menze / Shutterstock

14. France
14. France

14. France

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.56 million tons

Above, bales of plastic bottles are stacked at a recycling facility in Toulouse. The plastic is gathered by color and type.

Photo: Huguette Roe / Shutterstock

15. India
15. India

15. India

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.49 million tons

Of 186 countries in the report, India is at the bottom of the list for per-capita plastic waste, the least amount of plastic per person. The second largest country in the world with a population of 1.34 billion people, India's daily plastic waste per person per day is .01 kilograms, about a third of an ounce. Above, a man searches for recyclable material in the dump in Amravati, India.

Photo: Dipak Shelare / Shutterstock

16. South Africa
16. South Africa

16. South Africa

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.47 million tons

Workers clean up trash on a beach in Durban, South Africa.

Photo: lcswart / Shutterstock

17. Iran
17. Iran

17. Iran

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.92 million tons

Above, a truck in Fars Province, Shiraz, Iran carries a load of trash and recyclables.

Photo: Grigvovan / Shutterstock

18. Mexico
18. Mexico

18. Mexico

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.73 million tons

Above, men clean up trash in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Photo: Vic Hinterlang / Shutterstock

19. Thailand
19. Thailand

19. Thailand

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.53 million tons

Pictured is plastic for recycling in Ban Dung, Thailand.

Photo: Muellek Josef / Shutterstock

20. Vietnam
20. Vietnam

20. Vietnam

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.27 million tons

Above, an illegal trash dump in a national park in Vietnam.

Photo: Shutterstock

21. Italy
21. Italy

21. Italy

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.9 million tons

Photo: MZeta / Shutterstock

22. Argentina
22. Argentina

22. Argentina

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.75 million tons

Above, a South American coati picks at a scrap of plastic wrap.

Photo: Shutterstock

23. Venezuela
23. Venezuela

23. Venezuela

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.67 million tons

In Vargas, Venezuela, volunteers pick up trash during an international coastal cleanup day.

Photo: Edgloris Marys / Shutterstock

24. Sri Lanka
24. Sri Lanka

24. Sri Lanka

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.62 million tons

Above, a dolphin is entangled in fishing line and plastic bags in the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka.

Photo: Shutterstock

25. Netherlands
25. Netherlands

25. Netherlands

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.57 million tons

The Netherlands has one of the highest daily plastic waste per person, almost as much as Germany at .42 kilos per day (about 15 ounces.) Above, a dead northern gannet trapped in plastic fishing net is washed ashore on Kijkduin beach in The Hague, Netherlands.

Photo: Shutterstock

26. Philippines
26. Philippines

26. Philippines

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.57 million tons

The Philippines generates about 46,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Above, workers sort plastic for recycling at a facility in Angono, Rizal, Philippines.

Photo: junpinzon / Shutterstock

27. Colombia
27. Colombia

27. Colombia

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.41 million tons

Above, donkeys transport garbage out of Tayrona National Park, Colombia.

Photo: Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

28. Malaysia
28. Malaysia

28. Malaysia

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.03 million tons

Above, plastic products for sale at a market in Malaysia.

Photo: SUNIN SAIDI / Shutterstock

29. South Korea
29. South Korea

29. South Korea

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.03 million tons

Another sculpture made of recycled plastic bottles, this one in Seoul depicts the Korean mythical creature Kirin.

Photo: meunierd / Shutterstock

30. Algeria
30. Algeria

30. Algeria

Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 1.9 million tons

Source: Our World in Data CC BY 4.0

Photo: Sun_Shine / Shutterstock

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