47 Essential Sustainability Facts & Statistics

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Sustainability has become a hot topic in recent years, as more and more people are looking for ways to live a greener and more sustainable lifestyle. But what does sustainability actually mean, and how can it be measured?

Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, it's about living in a way that doesn't deplete the earth's resources or damage the environment.

There are several ways to live a sustainable lifestyle, but some of the most important things you can do are reduce your water and energy consumption, recycle and reuse, and eat more local and organic food.

Here are some surprising sustainability facts and statistics in 2022 that will help you understand just how important sustainability is and the challenges we face.

Recycling & Waste

  • The world dumps 2.12 billion tons of waste each year. (The World Counts)
  • But only 16% of the world's waste is recycled. (Maplecroft)
  • The United States produces the largest volume of waste per head of population in the world. Despite having just 4% of the world's population, the US generates 12% of global waste. (Maplecroft)
  • The US generates 292.4 million tons of Municipal Solid waste (MSW) and recycles 69 million tons, a little under 24%. (EPA)
  • 146.1 million tons of MSW in the US goes into landfill space. (EPA)
  • The US could run out of landfill space by 2035. (Waste Business Journal)
  • More than 400 Million Metric Tons of plastic waste are produced globally each year. Only 18% of plastic is collected to be recycled. (The Roundup)
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch now contains around 2 trillion pieces of plastic, including plastic bottle caps, bottles, bags, lids, containers, and cups. (The Roundup)
  • Plastic grocery bags take 20 years to decompose. A plastic straw can take 200 years. Plastic beverage bottles and cups can take up to 450 years. Some plastics may never biodegrade at all. (WWF)
  • Around 64 million people's lives are directly affected by the exporting and dumping of waste in poorer countries such as Ghana, Indonesia, and Pakistan. (The World Counts)
  • An astonishing 5 trillion plastic bags are used globally every year. Switching to reusable grocery bags could dramatically reduce this number. (Earth Day)

Water Sustainability Facts

  • The average US person uses 101.5 gallons of water each day. (Phila Gov)
  • Water scarcity could cause 700 million people around the world to be displaced by the year 2030. (UN)
  • More than 70% of global freshwater supplies are used up by agricultural processes such as irrigation. (UNESCO)
  • Every person who adopts a vegan diet could save as much as 219,000 gallons of water every year, due to the lower water footprint associated with vegetables as compared to meat and milk. (PETA)
  • 16 gallons of water per person per day could be saved by taking a shower instead of a bath. (Phila Gov)
  • Installing water-efficient fixtures such as a dual flush mechanism could reduce the water consumption from flushing your toilet by 67%. (The Roundup)

Energy Sustainability Facts

  • The world population currently uses 580 million terajoules of energy every year. (The World Counts)
  • Despite advances in clean and renewable energy sources, 83% of global energy still comes from fossil fuels. (The World Counts)
  • It would take 18.5 billion solar panels to produce enough energy to power the whole of the United States. (The Roundup)
  • Currently, 4.4% of global electricity and 3.9% of US electricity comes from solar power. (The Roundup)
  • 6.59% of global electricity comes from wind power. This figure rises to 9.2% in the US. (The Roundup)
  • Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs uses 90% less energy. This could reduce your overall home energy consumption by around 13% and save around $225 per year. (Energy Gov)
  • You can save 90% of the energy used by your washing machine by switching to the cold setting. Doing so would reduce your carbon footprint by 1,600 pounds a year. (Cleaning Institute)

Climate Change

  • More than 2.4 trillion tons of Carbon Dioxide have been released into the Earth's atmosphere over the last two centuries as a result of human activity. (The World Counts)
  • There are currently around 416.45 PPM (parts per million) of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is responsible for around two-thirds of the total effects of climate change. (The Roundup)
  • The Earth's average temperature has increased by at least 1.1° Celsius (1.9° Fahrenheit) since 1880. (NASA)
  • China is responsible for more current greenhouse gas emissions than any other country, but the US has produced the most in history. (The Roundup)
  • It is possible to reverse climate change before 2050 using existing technologies, but currently, we are not on course to achieve it. (Project Drawdown)

Population & Food Security

  • Current rates of global population growth will lead to a 70% rise in food demand by 2050. (UNESCO)
  • But 13.8% of all our food is lost in supply chains. (UN)
  • Half of the habitable global land area is used for agriculture. (OWID)
  • Agriculture already contributes to 11.6% of greenhouse gas emissions. (IPCC)
  • Livestock and fisheries (31%) are the largest contributors to food emissions. Crop production, including the growing of animal feed, contributes a further 27%. (OWID)
  • The shipping of food, known as "food miles," could be responsible for as much as 6% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Buying locally grown and sourced food can help mitigate against this. (The Guardian)

Conservation, Ecosystems & Biodiversity

  • 18 Million Hectares of forest are destroyed every year. This is equivalent to an area the size of England and Wales. (Rainforest Concern)
  • Rainforests produce 28% of the Earth's oxygen. (Nat Geo)
  • The main causes of deforestation are logging, ranching, agriculture and mining. (Rainforest Concern)
  • One million species of plants and animals are currently at risk of extinction, including many well-known species that could be extinct before 2050. There are already at least 20% fewer native land species than there were in 1900. (IPBES)
  • The world's indigenous population makes up less than 5% of the global population. But they protect 80% of the planet's biodiversity. (Nat Ge0)
  • Every ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees. (USI)
  • Those 17 trees can absorb 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. (USI)

General Facts About Sustainability

  • The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by United Nations member states in 2015. These deal with all aspects of sustainability, including the preservation of forests, oceans, and ecosystems, as well as climate change, clean water, and clean energy. (UN)
  • However, the world is not on track to achieve the SDGs by the target of 2030. (UN)
  • The Netherlands, France, Italy, and Germany are the countries that are leading the way toward adopting a circular economy. (Construcia)
  • Denmark is rated as the most environmentally friendly country in the world. (The Roundup)
  • The hole in the Earth's ozone layer, which was a source of global concern during the 1980s, is on track to repair itself following the banning of CFCs and other ozone-depleting gases under the Montreal Protocol. It is expected to fully heal between 2040 and 2070. (Britannica)

The Final Word

The world faces huge challenges if it is to prevent the climate change catastrophe, save global biodiversity, and feed a growing population.

At the current rate of progress, it's not going to happen.

While some progress has been made, the simple sustainability facts presented in this article demonstrate both the scale of the problems and the indisputable truth: that we are missing our targets in too many areas.

It is true that most of the responsibility lies with governments and large corporations, but the statistics also show that there are many things we can also do as individuals.

When we all act together as a collective, it is amazing what difference we can make.

The question is, will we act before it is too late?

Sources

Britannica https://www.britannica.com/story/is-the-ozone-layer-finally-healing-itself

Cleaning Institute https://www.cleaninginstitute.org/industry-priorities/outreach/cold-water-saves

Construcia https://www.construcia.com/en/noticias/which-countries-are-leading-the-change-in-circular-economy/

Dept of Energy https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/lighting-choices-save-you-money

Earth Day https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-how-much-disposable-plastic-we-use/

EPA https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials

Guardian (The) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/21/climate-impact-of-food-miles-three-times-greater-than-previously-believed-study-finds

IPBES https://ipbes.net/media-release-nature%E2%80%99s-dangerous-decline-%E2%80%98unprecedented%E2%80%99-species-extinction-rates-%E2%80%98accelerating%E2%80%99

IPCC https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter11.pdf

Maplecroft https://www.maplecroft.com/insights/analysis/us-tops-list-of-countries-fuelling-the-mounting-waste-crisis/

Maplecroft (2) https://www.circularonline.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Verisk_Maplecroft_Waste_Generation_Index_Overview_2019.pdf

NASA https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/world-of-change/global-temperatures

National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/can-indigenous-land-stewardship-protect-biodiversity-

National Geographic (2) https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/save-the-plankton-breathe-freely/

Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food

PETA https://www.peta.org/blog/how-to-save-219000-gallons-water-year/

Philadelphia Water Dept https://water.phila.gov/pool/files/home-water-use-ig5.pdf

Project Drawdown https://drawdown.org/solutions

Rainforest Concern https://www.rainforestconcern.org/forest-facts/why-are-rainforests-being-destroyed

Rodale Institute https://rodaleinstitute.org/blog/can-organic-feed-the-world/

The Workd Counts https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/state-of-the-planet/world-waste-facts

The World Counts (2) https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/climate-change/energy/global-energy-consumption

The World Counts (3) https://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/temperature-changes-due-to-global-warming

UNESCO https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000215492

United Nations https://sdgs.un.org/goals

United Nations (2) https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2020.pdf

University of Southern Indiana https://www.usi.edu/recycle/paper-recycling-facts/

WWF https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/the-lifecycle-of-plastics

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Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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