According to the German Environment Agency, Germany produced 411 million tons of waste in 2016. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US produced about 260 million US tons (236 million metric tons).

Are these numbers correct? Are they comparable measurements?

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    So the actual claim (Germany produces more waste than the US) is yours and yours alone? Apr 2, 2019 at 7:42
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    @DmitryGrigoryev: No...?!? He's quoting his sources for 411 million tons / Germany vs. 260 million tons / USA right there in the question? (Apples and oranges notwithstanding, as Barry pointed out.)
    – DevSolar
    Apr 2, 2019 at 8:59
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    @DevSolar your argument would allow arbitrary questions! Just because the data sources are vaguely related, there still is no proof of a notable claim that "Germany produces more waste than the US", except this question itself. Apr 2, 2019 at 9:32
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    I think this question doesn't fit the notability requirements for Skeptics. It's a good question though for environmental sciences, which has its own stack earthscience.stackexchange.com/tour Pollution control is part of environmental science, if Wikipedia is correct. And they do have a pollution tag on the aforementioned stack. Apr 2, 2019 at 10:59
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    @DevSolar If I'm not mistaken, neither of the sources makes a comparison between the US and Germany. The question asks to verify specifically this comparison, not the numbers present in the sources. Apr 2, 2019 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


The reason for this discrepancy is because the data from the Umweltbundesamt includes construction and demolition waste (see figure below and surrounding text on your linked webpage) whereas the data from the EPA "does not include everything that is landfilled in MSW, or nonhazardous, landfills, such as construction and demolition (C&D) debris, municipal wastewater sludge, and other non-hazardous industrial wastes." The EPA data you cited only includes "trash, or municipal solid waste (MSW), as various items consumers throw away after they are used." enter image description here

If you are interested in data for just municipal solid waste (like in the EPA website), @Milster has recommended this Statista page where it is shown that Germany has produced 51.05 million metric tons of MSW in 2017 whereas the Unites States has produced 258 million metric tons. Thus, the US produced 5 times as much municipal solid waste as Germany in 2017. The Statista values for US MSW in 2017 approximately agree with the EPA figure (below).

When evaluating the raw numerical data, keep in mind that the US population is 4 times the German population (source, source). The average person in the US produces 0.79 metric tons (790 kg) of MSW a year and the average person in Germany produces 0.62 metric tons (620 kg) of MSW a year. In other words, "the US is only 25% worse, or Germany 20% better (@Deduplicator)."

Is it true that a country with smaller GDP and a quarter of the population produces so much more waste?

No, Germany does not produce "so much more" Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) than the US.

Does the US not classify certain kinds as waste?

The cited EPA report only classifies MSW and does not include all other types of wastes.

Are the numbers comparable measurements?

No, the numbers are not comparable measurements. Certain types of waste are not included in the cited EPA numbers.

enter image description here

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    Also (if you want to compare american individual's wastefulness) remember that in certain parts of the US burning your (plastic) waste is still common practice, whereas in Germany it is not, leading to a higher reported waste as well
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 1, 2019 at 8:41
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    If US counts only a subset of landfill and Germany counts waste where it is collected, then it is not a fair comparison because in Germany only the remainders of burned general waste (unrecycled) is landfilled. Apr 1, 2019 at 11:15
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    @Hobbamok From what I can understand, MSW includes all waste consumers throw out, regardless of how the waste is later managed (e.g. through incineration). The final statistics are comparisons of MSW and only MSW. Apr 1, 2019 at 13:18
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    @Yakk Wait, in what way is it a better metric? That kind of depends on what you're trying to measure and why, and it certainly doesn't have any obvious relation to the question being asked here.
    – Cubic
    Apr 2, 2019 at 10:02
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    @Yakk We're talking about total produced waste, not what we do when we have it. Yes, if you're very densely populated it's more difficult to get rid of the same amount of waste than if you have tons of extra space, but that wasn't what the question was about.
    – Cubic
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:30

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