Contemporary Urban Environments 8

There are three primary sources of waste in urban areas:

1. Industrial waste - any waste that has been produced in the manufacturing process or from industrial activity.

2. Commercial waste - any waste that is produced by businesses.

3. Personal waste - any waste produced by private homes.

Globally, the largest components of waste are organic material (46%), paper (17%), plastic (10%) and glass (5%). The majority of waste is easy to manage, but some materials hazardous.

A waste stream is the flow of waste from its origin through to its eventual disposal:

  • Some products can be recycled.
  • Others need to be broken down into their component parts and each part disposed of separately.

Waste streams and components of waste vary depending on many factors, including:

Economic characteristics:

  • As people get richer, they tend to consumer more goods. This means that developed countries produce more waste than developing countries.
  • The components of waste also vary depending on the development level of the country. In developed countries, the main components are paper (31%), organic material (28%) and plastic (11%). In developing countries, the largest components are organic material (64%), plastic (8%) and paper (5%).
  • Waste streams vary between countries, but there is no clear-cut link to wealth.


  • Amount and type of waste produced varies depending on whether people live in the city or the country - urban dwellers produce more waste than rural residents. People in rural areas produce more organic waste, and people in cities produce more manufactured waste.
  • The facilities available to people affect the waste streams they use.
  • Diet is likely to affect waste components and streams.


  • Many developed countries have a throw-away culture.
  • Increasing concerns about health may cause people to throw away food that is near or just past its sell-by date, resulting in high levels of food waste.
  • People have different attitudes towards…


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