Garbage: What a waste!

Population growth, urbanization and increased consumerism have supported long-term growth in waste volumes generated by the society. Solid waste management affects everybody of us in the world, as individuals managing our own waste or governments that are providing waste management services to the society.

February 2, 2021

Dr. Patrick Kolb, Fund Manager

Credit Suisse Asset Management

The World Bank estimates global waste volume would grow by 70% from 2.01 billion tons in 2016 to 3.40 billion tons by 2050, if no further actions would be taken to reduce it. The authors calculate at least 33% of the waste volume is openly dumped and therefore not managed in an environmentally safe manner. 37% is disposed of in some type of a landfill, 19% undergoes materials recovery through recycling and composting and only 11% is treated through modern incineration. Across regions, Sub-Saharan Africa collects about 44% of waste while Europe, Central Asia and North America collect at least 90% of waste.1

Waste volumes: No peak waste in this century

According to researchers, our society is unlikely to reach peak waste in this century without drastic actions: Population growth and urbanization will likely outpace the efforts in waste reduction.2 Handling this growing volume of waste responsibly will become an increasingly important issue given the environmental, social and economic costs associated with waste. To highlight that, let us have a look at the situation in the United States:

Fig. 1: US Waste volumes have grown significantly, especially plastics and paper (in tons of waste)
Source: EPA

According to fig. 1 total volume of municipal solid waste (MSW) has grown from 88 million tons in 1960 to 268 million tons in 2017. During the same time period, the US population increased by more than 80% from 179 million to 325 million inhabitants. It seems that the US has become more wasteful over the last five decades (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Total Municipal Waste in the US vs. US population, indexed to 100, and per capita waste generation (rhs)
Source:, US Census Bureau

From 1960 to 2000, per capita MSW generation almost doubled from 2.68 pounds per person per day in 1960 to 4.74 pounds per person per day. Since then it has stabilized and remains currently at 4.51 pounds per person per day.3

Back in April 2020, Global Markets Insights, a market research and consulting company, estimated that the US waste market would grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.2% from 2020 – 2026, attributing this growth to the increased waste generation.4

Fig. 3 shows a brief overview of the municipal solid waste segments. The four biggest of them, paper and paperboard products, food waste, yard trimmings and plastics, are commented in the following sections:

  • With approx. 25%, paper and paperboard products made up the largest percentage of all the municipal waste. Since 2005 this segment declined from 84.8 million tons in 2005 to 67 million tons in 2017. We believe this downward trend will continue, driven by the increased use of digital tools and recycling.

Fig. 3: Total municipal solid waste generated by segment, 2017

  • Food waste, such as uneaten leftovers or spoiled produce, is estimated at 40 million tons, or ca. 15% of total waste generation. About 94% of the food thrown away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. Food waste is estimated at between 30% – 40% of total food supply. It is the second single largest category of material placed in landfills and represents nourishment that could have helped feed families in need.5
  • Yard trimmings, estimated at 35.2 million tons, comprised ca. 13.1% of total waste generation. Compared to 1990 with ca. 35 million tons (ca. 16.8% of total generation) it was more or less stable in the last 30 years. We think going forward this might decline mainly due to to state legislation which is discouraging yard trimmings disposal in landfills, including source reduction measures such as backyard composting and leaving grass trimmings on the yard.
  • Plastic waste is a rapidly growing segment of municipal solid waste: In 2017, plastic products generation was 35.4 million tons versus four million tons as of 2010. This segment has grown from 8.2% of total MSW generation in 1990 to 13.2% in 2017. It mainly came from durable goods and the containers and packaging categories, which includes bags, sacks and wraps, but also PET bottles, casings of lead acid batteries and other products. Plastic is durable with lifespans of up to thousands of years and still 95% of plastic packaging is only used once quickly and discarded. This throwaway behaviour of current plastic consumption is unsustainable in the long run, in our opinion.

Thematic Investments

Our investment teams identify and aim to invest in exciting and attractively valued companies that are on the cutting edge of innovation. Join us and invest in tomorrow’s winners.

Waste disposal: Not in my backyard
In the US the amount of MSW generated in 2017 was 267.8 million tons, of which 139.6 million tons ended in landfills. Recycled waste was at 67.2 million tons and the amount composted was 27 million tons. The amount of MSW combusted with energy recovery was at 34 million tons (fig. 4).6

The challenge is how to manage MSW efficiently and in an environmentalfriendly way. Not properly managed solid waste poses risk to human health and the environment by contaminating water, attracting insects and rodents, increasing flood due to blocked drainage of canals or gullies, among others.7 Its disposal has evolved over time, with waste deposited at landfills having peaked in 1990 on a volume basis and more waste being recycled, composted or combusted in later years. 

Over 50% of today’s waste is still stored in one of the 3’091 US landfills. This concept of collecting waste in a pit or pile has changed relatively little since the Middle Ages. Today there are various environmental-related regulations surrounding landfills to ensure that they are safe, starting from the design and construction to the operation and closing of the landfill. Solid waste landfills are constructed with engineering safeguards to limit the possibility of water and air pollution. 

Fig. 4: Landfills remain the main disposal sites for municipal solid waste


Recent trends are showing that governments are reluctant to approve additional landfills or incinerations due to environmental concerns, increased regulatory restrictions and also due to the fact that people simply do not want to live next of a landfill. With more landfills closing than opening, there are fewer and larger landfills and they are located farther away from population centers. As a result, the United States is today on track to having only 18 years of remaining landfill capacity left. While the landfills get scarcer, it is expected that the pricing power of those who own the landfills will increase.8 It is not surprising that some waste management companies have increased the price for landfill disposal at an average rate of 3.4% from 2015 to 2019. However, we think in the long run these businesses have to adapt to a society that is more focused on recycling and to new disposal methods becoming economically viable through government support or innovation.

Incineration is the process of burning waste to dispose of it by reducing its mass and volume. Its aim is to reduce the solid mass of the original waste by 80%–85% and the volume (already compressed somewhat in garbage trucks) by 95%–96%, depending on the composition and degree of recovery of materials such as metals from the ash for recycling. While incineration does not completely replace the landfills, it significantly reduces the disposal volume. Many incineration plants are waste-to-energy plants where the waste is burnt to drive turbines and to create electricity. Since the year 2000 the numbers of incinerators in the US have been falling from over 100 to currently 73.9 In our opinion, it is rather unlikely to see a significant increase in incinerator capacity over the next couple of years.

Recycling has increased in popularity, as environmental concerns have risen over the past years and consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of sustainable solutions. It is viewed as an alternative to "conventional" waste disposal that reduces waste volumes and helps lower greenhouse gas emissions. The largest recycled material is cardboard, with other materials consisting primarily of plastic, metals and glass. Recycling can prevent the waste of potentially useful materials and reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials. Solid waste companies operate material recovery facilities, where reusable materials from the waste stream are separated for processing or resale.

While recycling has grown as a proportion of waste disposal, fig. 4 shows that it has somewhat stagnated in recent years. Probably this has been driven by a combination of factors such as lack of consumer awareness.10 It seems many consumers still do not understand what can and cannot be recycled, or the importance of best practice in recycling.11 Clearly, recycling is preferable to landfill or incineration.12 However, in some areas such as medical or hazardous waste, we think permanent waste disposal remains the preferred solution.


In our opinion rising waste volumes is one of the toughest long term challenges for our society. The consequences of ignoring waste are serious: The cost of inaction from healthcare costs, lost productivity, flood damage and damage to business and tourism is 5x – 10x greater than that of proper waste management, especially for middle- and low-income countries.13 From a society’s perspective, the negative impact from growing waste volumes is therefore clear: Not properly managed waste ends up polluting the soil, water and air. We think recycling or composting will surely gain in attractiveness, but we also believe it is likely that total waste volumes will continue to grow in the near future.14 At the end of the day it seems that our society is facing a somewhat of a monumental task to reduce waste volumes. 

While some might view waste management firms negatively, in our opinion they present as of today the only true way of handling society’s waste at scale. An organized, efficient and environmental friendly waste management service minimizes the negative impacts from waste disposals. In countries where adequate waste disposal services are not available, we think it is unlikely that such a situation will drive to lower waste volumes. Unregulated dumping of waste will likely continue, thus leading to more pollution. 

For investors within the security & safety space, we believe waste management is an attractive structural growth area coupled to the themes growing world population, urbanization and stricter environmental regulations. We think that the global dynamics of waste volumes mean that waste management offers numerous opportunities for those with exposure to the value chain. Based on these underlying trends favorable for our theme in the Environmental Security area, we are shareholders of leading companies in the waste disposal area with a special focus on hazardous waste and medical waste.


  • Focus on security and safety companies can lead to significant sector/regional exposures.
  • A slowdown of the world economy might impact the security and safety sector.
  • Liquidity risk (exposure to small caps).
  • Equity markets can be volatile, especially in the short term.
  • Due to the possibility of increased exposure to the emerging markets the strategy may be affected by political and economic risks in these countries.

Source: Worldbank (2018): What a waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, URL:, 21.10.2020.
Source: Hoornweg et al. (2013): Environment: Waste production must peak this century, Nature International Journal of Science, Oct. 2013, URL: -1.14032 , 21.10.2020.
3 Source: EPA (2020): Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling, URL:, 21.10.2020.
4 Source: Global Market Insights (2020): US Municipal Solid Waste Management Market, URL:, 06.11.2020.
5 Source: FDA (2020): Food loss and waste, URL:, 21.10.2020.
6 Source: EPA (2020): Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling, URL:, 21.10.2020.
7 Source: Liu et al. (2015): A review of municipal solid waste environmental standards with a focus on incinerator residues, in: International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment, December 2015, URL:, 24.10.2020.
Source: Wastedive (2020): Disposal capacity crunch paves way for more industry consolidation and price increases, Jan. 8th 2020, URL: , 25.10.2020.
Source: Tishman Environment and Design Center (2019): U.S. Municipal Solid Waste Incinerators: An Industry in Decline, May 2019, URL:
10 Source: Envirotec (2018): Incineration not the reason for recycling stagnation, comment, Sept. 26th 2018, URL: , 25.10.2020.
11 Examples of best practice in recycling are: 
- Buy products that can be recycled.
- Separate waste that can be recycled from other waste.
- Check the cost of recycling: It could be much less than sending your waste for energy recovery or disposal.
- Sell high-quality recyclable materials, such as construction materials.
Source: (2020): How to recycle your business waste, URL: , 30.10.2020.
12 The cost of recycling waste might also be a reason for the slow uptake in recycling. Recycled products have to compete with goods created from raw materials, which have been very volatile and can even be cheaper. As a result, high recycling costs coupled with competitive raw material prices mean that the recycling industry often struggles to stay competitive in a highly uncertain market.
13 Source: UNEP (2015): Global Waste Management Outlook, 2015, URL: , 26.10.2020.
14 Circular economy could be part of the solution: The aim of this approach is to 1) minimize the use of raw materials and to preserve the natural resources, 2) to maximize the yield from resources by reusing the materials as much as possible and 3) minimize negative externalities sich as air and water pollution. This approach involves the transformation of every aspect in the lifecycle of a good, starting from design, manufacturing, retail, consumption, reuse and recycling (source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2020): The Circular Economy In Detail, URL:, 29.10.2020.


Fee Disclosure
Where permitted by law, we may receive fees, commissions or other monetary benefits in connection with this product from third parties. For details please refer to your Fee Schedule or contact your Relationship Manager.

If you are not a client of Credit Suisse UK Ltd
If you are not a client of Credit Suisse, please note that this document has been provided to you for information purposes only as an example of the type of products we are able to offer to you should you become a client of Credit Suisse. The provision to you of this document does not constitute an invitation or inducement to buy or sell any security or other financial investment, nor does it constitute an advice or personal recommendation. Should you wish to invest in any products, you will have to go through our account opening process which involves providing us with details of your personal and financial circumstances, risk appetite and investment objectives as well as selecting the most appropriate portfolio mandate for you. We can thereafter work with you to determine which investments are suitable or appropriate for you.

Marketing Disclaimer
This document is provided to you for your information and discussion only. It is not a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security or other financial instrument. Any information including facts, opinions or quotations, may be condensed or summarised and is expressed as of the date of writing. The information may change without notice and Credit Suisse (UK) Limited (“Credit Suisse”) is under no obligation to ensure that such updates are brought to your attention. The price and value of investments mentioned and any income that might accrue could fall or rise or fluctuate. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. If an investment is denominated in a currency other than your base currency consult with such advisor(s) as you consider necessary to assist you in making these determinations. Nothing in this document constitutes legal, accounting or tax advice. Credit Suisse does not advise on the tax consequences of investments and you are advised to contact a tax advisor should you have any questions in this regard. The levels and basis of taxation are dependent on individual circumstances and are subject to change.  This document has been prepared from sources Credit Suisse believes to be reliable but we do not guarantee its accuracy or completeness and do not accept liability for any loss arising from its use. Credit Suisse reserves the right to remedy any errors that may be present in this document.  Credit Suisse its affiliates and/or their employees may have a position or holding, or other material interest or effect transactions in any securities mentioned or options thereon, or other investments related thereto and from time to time may add to or dispose of such investments. Credit Suisse may be providing, or have provided within the previous 12 months, significant advice or investment services in relation to the investment concerned or a related investment to any company or issuer mentioned. Some investments referred to in this document will be offered by a single entity or an associate of Credit Suisse or Credit Suisse may be the only market maker in such investments. This document is intended only for the person to whom it is issued by Credit Suisse. It may not be reproduced either in whole, or in part, without our written permission. The distribution of this document and the offer and sale of the investment in certain jurisdictions may be forbidden or restricted by law or regulation.  Investments may have no public market or only a restricted secondary market. Where a secondary market exists, it is not possible to predict the price at which investments will trade in the market or whether such market will be liquid or illiquid. Where such investments will not be listed or traded on any exchange, pricing information may be more difficult to obtain and the liquidity of the investments may be adversely affected. A holder may be able to realise value prior to an investment’s maturity date only at a price in an available secondary market. The Issuer of the investment may have entered into contracts with third parties to create the indicated returns and/or any applicable capital protection (in part or in full). The investment instrument's retention of value is dependent not only on the development of the value of the underlying asset, but also on the creditworthiness of the Issuer and/or Guarantor (as applicable), which may change over the term of the investment instrument. In the event of default by the Issuer and/or Guarantor of the investment and/or any third party, the investment or any income derived from such contracts is not guaranteed and you may get back none of, or less than, what was originally invested. Parties other than the Issuer or Guarantor (as appropriate) mentioned in this document (for instance the Lead Manager, Co-structurer, Calculation Agent or Paying Agent) do neither guarantee repayment of the invested capital nor financial return on the investment product, if nothing is indicated to the contrary.  You may have to accept smaller returns on an investment relative to a direct investment in the underlying index, basket, etc. because of the costs involved in providing the capital protection. Such capital protection normally only applies if the investment is held until maturity. The amount of initial capital to be repaid may be geared, which means that a fall in the underlying index or securities may result in a larger reduction in the amount repaid to investors. Where this document relates to packaged products (such as regulated collective investment schemes), any advice offered to retail clients is based on a selection of products from the whole of the market. Where this document relates to emerging markets you should refer to the Risk Disclosures section of the Credit Suisse Terms of Business. Additional information is, subject to duties of confidentiality, available from Credit Suisse upon request. Hedge Fund strategies may include the use of leverage (borrowing) and derivative instruments resulting in certain risks, some of which are as follows: leveraged investments, by their nature, increase the potential loss to investors resulting from any depreciation in the value of such investments. Consequently, a relatively small price movement in a leveraged instrument may result in a substantially greater loss to the Hedge Fund. The market in some of the investments made as part of a Fund’s strategy may be relatively illiquid, giving rise to potential difficulties in valuing and disposing of such investments. Information for determining the value of investments held by a Fund may not be readily available which has corresponding implications for the overall valuation of a Fund. Accurate risk profiling of the Fund holdings may also not be readily available. Always refer to the Fund’s Prospectus and/or the Key Investor Information Document before making an investment. Your personal data will be processed in accordance with the Credit Suisse Privacy Policy published at Credit Suisse (UK) Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority for the conduct of investment business in the United Kingdom. The registered address of Credit Suisse (UK) Limited is Five Cabot Square, London, E14 4QR.  If you have any questions regarding the document, please contact your Relationship Manager.

© Credit Suisse (UK) Limited 2020.