Atlas for the world's biggest dumpsites : Top Trumps For Big Dumps!

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Despite the fact that the unsound disposal of solid waste is a hot topic, little is known about dump site locations, the amount of waste already disposed, the people affected by their presence, the degradation of natural resources etc. The scientific literature is limited and people are informed mainly from ‘grey' (no-peer reviewed) literature.

The truth is, that up to now no efforts have been made to catalogue the most risky dumpsites around the world. "Without a list of the biggest dumpsites there is no possibility to prioritise their closure on a global level," explains Antonis Mavropoulos, CEO and founder of D-Waste. "It is somehow strange that international aid for waste management is shared without ranking priorities for dumpsites, according their health and environmental impacts."

There are important questions related to dumpsites: What types of waste and how much of it do they receive? What is their size and exact location? How about waste picking activities on site? What is the number of people potentially affected by their operation? What are the wider implications for human health and the environment?

By answering these questions the most important dumpsites can be profiled in a similar way, and thus the riskiest ones can be identified. The Waste Atlas Partnership decided to respond to this challenge in its 2014 Waste Atlas Report. The partnership, headed by waste management consultants, D-Waste, comprises ISWA, WTERT, SWEEPNET, the University of Leeds and SWAPI. Its latest report is the first to list and profile the 50 biggest (known) active dumpsites of the world.


The Waste Atlas Report provides information for each dumpsite in a standardised profile template where the following key features are presented:

  • waste in place (tonnes),
  • type of waste,
  • size (ha),
  • number of the informal sector workers on the site,
  • number of people living within a 10 km radius from the site,
  • locations of nearby natural resources,
  • distance of nearest settlement and waste concentration, defined as weight waste deposit over area (tonnes/ha).

The presented data are the most recent and reliable found either from Waste Atlas Partner organisations, academic publications, official and commercial reports, crowdsourcing or grey literature such as news in the media. One of the most difficult problems was to identify the exact locations in order to correlate dumpsites with potentially affected populations, and where feasible, their current or potential environmental and health impacts. This difficulty was successfully managed with the contributions of Waste Atlas volunteers and the use of Waste Atlas mobile app, through which users submitted the exact coordinates as well as photos taken from the site that provide a visual record of the on-site conditions.


As expected, the greatest number of dumpsites are located in developing countries, especially in two continents - Africa and Asia. The research conducted and the crowdsourcing campaign revealed that 18 of the 50 biggest active dumpsites are located in Africa, 17 in Asia, eight in Latin America, five in Central America and the Caribbean and two in Europe. From a first glance of the 50 biggest dumpsites, it is obvious that almost all of them are located near or even within urban areas and close to natural resources.

42 out of the 50 dumpsites have settlements closer than 2 km, 44 dumpsites are close (less than 10 km) to natural resources and 38 dumpsites are close to water sources such as rivers, lakes, oceans, posing threat for marine and coastal pollution. Hazardous waste is disposed in 24 and seven dumpsites are receiving e-waste. A statistical analysis conducted by a University of Leeds team led by Costas Velis, lecturer in resource efficiency systems at Leeds University's School of Civil Engineering and head of Waste Atlas Scientific Committee. It revealed that there is a slight linear relationship between the number of informal recyclers living and working in dumpsites and the weight of waste it accepts per year (annual capacity), as sites accepting more waste have more recyclers.

A slight linear relation was also revealed for the number of people live within a 10 km radius from a dumpsite and the weight of waste it accepts per year. This relation is much more evident for big populations living around dumpsites, where over 2 million people within a 10 km radius. "Analysis revealed key patterns, documented here for the very first time, such as the correlation between numbers of people potentially exposed to dumpsites and the size of dumpsites, evident for biggest population agglomerations. And allowed us to create the profile of the average ‘monstrous' dumpsite of our times," explains Velis,

Measured as the median for each variable 50%, the hypothetical monstrous dumpsite is accepting mixed (unprocessed) municipal solid waste. It would also not be a surprise to find out that hazardous waste is co-disposed. The site could already contain at least 2.5 million tonnes of waste and occupy 24 ha (240,000 m2) - the size of around 29 large international football fields. It is likely that this average large scale dumpsite would have been operating for 17 years, and have an annual capacity of 267,000 tonne of waste.

Further, it would also have something less than around 830,000 people living within 10 km radius of its centre, with the nearest settlement being just within half kilometre. Around 1300 informal recyclers could be scraping a living from the dumpsite.

As expected, the greatest number of dumpsites are located in developing countries, especially in two continents - Africa and Asia.

- © Brian E.C. McCarthy, via WasteAidUK

Food for Thought

It should be kept in mind that most of the dumpsites are located in poor or middle-income countries, where in most cases there are no financial or human resources available to implement sound disposal systems. Even in some developing countries where the technology of sanitary landfills is well established the institutional, legal and financial challenges cannot be faced and the weak administrative structures result in open dumpsites. "I really believe that the closure and rehabilitation of those dumpsites, and the development of sound waste management systems, must be considered as a global challenge and not a local one, since countries blocked in a poverty trap will never make it themselves. And I am sure that the list provided by this report will serve as a first step towards the understanding of this global challenge," concludes Mavropoulos.

About the Waste Atlas

Waste Atlas is an interactive waste management map that visualises global solid waste data for comparison and benchmarking purposes. It is supported by a number of significant global organisations, including D-Waste, University of Leeds, ISWA, WtERT, SWEEP-Net and SWAPI. One of the keys to the Waste Atlas's success has been its ability to crowdsource its data thanks to widespread global participation. A database of 75,000 documents has been created with the cooperation of more than 1000 scientists in 93 different countries to compile data for 164 countries, 1799 cities, and more than 2600 facilities. The Waste Atlas platform demonstrates the power and the potential contribution of crowdsourcing tools in technical and scientific problems. For that purpose, D-Waste recently published a completely redesigned interactive mobile app (available for iOS and Android) which stimulates users to create customised reports and submit new data related on waste management.

To view big dumps and their locations, please click here.