31 July 2012, 09:55 BST
Even though many businesses and municipal governments have policies requiring reductions in waste sent to landfills, more than three-quarters of what humans throw away still winds up there.
So it is hardly surprising that more landfill operators and communities are investing in thermal waste-to-energy projects that turn trash into a fuel source -- as a way of reducing waste and supporting low-carbon growth.
More than 800 plants have been built to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into base load power and heat, and that number will grow rapidly over the next decade, predicts Pike Research, a part of Navigant's Energy Practice.
By 2022, at least 261 million tons of MSW will be converted into energy on an annual basis, according to Pike's "Waste-to-Energy Technology Markets" report.
An even more optimistic prediction suggests the figure could reach 396 million tons annually, which is the equivalent of 429 terawatt-hours (tWh) of power.
"Ten years from now the world's rapidly increasing urban population will generate nearly 3 billion tons of MSW per year, representing an estimated 240 gigawatts of untapped energy potential," says senior research analyst Mackinnon Lawrence. "The escalation in waste generation presents policy makers with a difficult choice: either expand existing landfill capacity (an unappealing, but low-cost option in many areas) or invest in new waste-to-energy capacity, which can reduce the overall volume of waste that must be dumped."
The growth potential for the sector varies dramatically by region. China is expanding the projects rapidly, for example, as it reaches capacity for its 400 or so landfills, and it now pays more for electricity generated by waste-to-energy plants than it does for coal-generated power.
Overall, the Asia Pacific region will account for 54% of electricity generated from waste-to-energy systems worldwide.
For more on the Pike waste-to-energy report: