The Problem of an Aging Global Population, Shown by Country
The Implications of an Aging Population
The world is experiencing a seismic demographic shift—and no country is immune to the consequences.
While increasing life expectancy and declining birth rates are considered major achievements in modern science and healthcare, they will have a significant impact on future generations.
Today’s graphic relies on OECD data to demonstrate how the old-age to working-age ratio will change by 2060, highlighting some of the world’s fastest aging countries.
The Demographic Debacle
By 2050, there will be 10 billion people on earth, compared to 7.7 billion today—and many of them will be living longer. As a result, the number of elderly people per 100 working-age people will nearly triple—from 20 in 1980, to 58 in 2060.
Populations are getting older in all OECD countries, yet there are clear differences in the pace of aging. For instance, Japan holds the title for having the oldest population , with ⅓ of its citizens already over the age of 65. By 2030, the country’s workforce is expected to fall by 8 million—leading to a major potential labor shortage.
In another example, while South Korea currently boasts a younger than average population, it will age rapidly and end up with the highest old-to-young ratio among developed countries.
A Declining Workforce
Globally, the working-age population will see a 10% decrease by 2060. It will fall the most drastically by 35% or more in Greece, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. On the other end of the scale, it will increase by more than 20% in Australia, Mexico, and Israel.
Israel’s notably higher increase of 67% is due to the country’s high fertility rate, which is comparable to “baby boom” numbers seen in the U.S. following the second World War.
As countries prepare for the coming decades, workforce shortages are just one of the impacts of aging populations already being felt.
Managing the Risks
There are many other social and economic risks that we can come to expect as the global population continues to age:
- The Squeezed Middle: With more people claiming pension benefits but less people paying income taxes, the shrinking workforce may be forced to pay higher taxes.
- Rising Healthcare Costs: Longer lives do not necessarily mean healthier lives, with those over 65 more likely to have at least one chronic disease and require expensive, long-term care.
- Economic Slowdown: Changing workforces may lead capital to flow away from rapidly aging countries to younger countries, shifting the global distribution of economic power.
The strain on pension systems is perhaps the most evident sign of a drastically aging population. Although the average retirement age is gradually increasing in many countries, people are saving insufficiently for their increased life span—resulting in an estimated $400 trillion deficit by 2050.
Pensions Under Pressure
A pension is promised, but not necessarily guaranteed. Any changes made to existing government programs can alter the lives of future retirees entirely—but effective pension reforms that lessen the growing deficit are required urgently.
Towards a Better System
Certain countries are making great strides towards more sustainable pension systems, and the Global Pension Index suggests initiatives that governments can take into consideration, such as:
- Continuing to increase the age of retirement
- Increasing the level of savings—both inside and outside pension funds
- Increasing the coverage of private pensions across the labor force, including self-employed and contract employees, to provide improved integration between various pillars
- Preserving retirement funds by limiting the access to benefits before the retirement age
- Increasing the trust and confidence of all stakeholders by improving transparency of pension plans
Although 59% of employees are expecting to continue earning well into their retirement years, providing people with better incentives and options to make working at an older age easier could be crucial for ensuring continued economic growth.
Live Long and Prosper
As 2020 marks the beginning of the Decade of Healthy Ageing , the world is undoubtedly entering a pivotal period.
Countries all over the world face tremendous pressure to effectively manage their aging populations, but preparing for this demographic shift early will contribute to the economic advancement of countries, and allow populations—both young and old—to live long and prosper.
Charted: The Global Plastic Waste Trade
Which countries are responsible for exporting the world’s plastic waste? This graphic shows the flow of global plastic waste through exports and imports.
Charting the Movement of Global Plastic Waste
Every year, nations worldwide produce around 350 million metric tons of plastic waste. This is equivalent to over 10 million fully loaded garbage trucks.
Most of this plastic waste is either incinerated or sent to landfills, thus eventually polluting our air, land, and oceans . Only a fraction of this waste is recycled, and contrary to popular belief, just 2% is traded internationally.
This graphic by Our World in Data uses data from OECD and UN Comtrade to reveal just how much plastic waste is traded across borders, and which countries are estimated to export and import the most of it.
Why Trade Waste?
Though most plastic waste is managed and recycled within countries, exporting spare waste helps manage a part of their plastic emissions more cheaply and reduces pressure on local recycling facilities and landfills.
Importing plastics, on the other hand, comes with certain financial benefits too. Repurposing recycled plastics into goods is a far cheaper option for industries that would otherwise rely on buying newly manufactured expensive plastics. And many countries differ when it comes to their specific plastic recycling capabilities and needs, so while they might export some plastic waste, they also import others that are useful.
Research has even found that higher plastic waste imports have positively impacted the economic growth of many low-income countries, in the right circumstances.
However, when countries export unusable and non-recyclable contaminated plastics, these same low-income nations may see the end-of-life ecosystem costs outweigh any financial benefits.
The World’s Biggest Plastic Importers and Exporters
With its reported plastic waste exports nearing four million metric tons, Europe exports nearly 80% of the world’s traded plastic waste. However, as most is reportedly exported to other European nations, it is also the largest importing region.
Here are the world’s top plastic waste exporters in 2020 according to UN Comtrade data:
|Rank||Country||Exported Plastic Waste (2020)|
|4||United Kingdom||560,986,540 kg|
|13||China, Hong Kong SAR||112,080,263 kg|
|29||Other Asia, nes||43,457,341 kg|
|30||Viet Nam||37,175,812 kg|
|35||Republic of Korea||28,904,472 kg|
|37||Russian Federation||25,644,305 kg|
|39||Saudi Arabia||23,481,323 kg|
|40||New Zealand||22,480,990 kg|
|46||Dominican Republic||14,719,180 kg|
|48||United Republic of Tanzania||14,479,176 kg|
|57||Costa Rica||8,825,189 kg|
|59||El Salvador||7,419,495 kg|
|63||Bosnia Herzegovina||6,007,289 kg|
|74||United Arab Emirates||3,772,818 kg|
|76||North Macedonia||3,477,001 kg|
|78||Lao People's Democratic Republic||3,124,150 kg|
|86||South Africa||2,079,115 kg|
|96||Burkina Faso||1,225,000 kg|
|99||Bolivia (Plurinational State of)||740,180 kg|
|100||Trinidad and Tobago||658,955 kg|
|103||French Polynesia||577,460 kg|
|104||Sri Lanka||483,401 kg|
|109||China, Macao SAR||350,362 kg|
|116||Republic of Moldova||169,735 kg|
|121||Brunei Darussalam||39,660 kg|
|123||Cayman Isds||1,435 kg|
|126||Democratic Republic of the Congo||33 kg|
Due to political reasons, UN Comtrade includes Taiwan data under “Other Asia, not elsewhere specified.”
Germany , which is the world’s largest exporter of plastic scraps and waste at 854 million kilograms , relies primarily on the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Türkiye, and Malaysia to manage this plastic waste.
Asia’s largest plastic exports are from Japan , which trades primarily with other Asian countries including Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea. In 2020, Japan was the world’s second-largest plastic waste exporter with 821 million kilograms shipped.
Third on this list is the United States . The country is estimated to have exported more than 600 million kilograms of plastic waste in 2020, and while a majority was traded with Canada, a portion also went to Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.
And on the receiving end, Malaysia and Türkiye have become the world’s largest plastic waste importers, primarily from within their respective regions:
|Rank||Country||Imported Plastic Waste (2020)|
|4||Viet Nam||440,706,678 kg|
|8||Other Asia, nes||230,934,455 kg|
|11||China, Hong Kong SAR||186,629,825 kg|
|17||United Kingdom||144,482,263 kg|
|21||Rep. of Korea||97,893,699 kg|
|34||Russian Federation||31,817,270 kg|
|40||Bosnia Herzegovina||21,829,094 kg|
|52||El Salvador||9,934,333 kg|
|54||South Africa||8,290,544 kg|
|55||United Arab Emirates||8,194,024 kg|
|61||Saudi Arabia||7,772,952 kg|
|68||New Zealand||4,986,243 kg|
|69||Lao People's Dem. Rep.||4,896,151 kg|
|78||United Rep. of Tanzania||2,801,914 kg|
|79||Costa Rica||2,584,350 kg|
|83||South Sudan||1,709,764 kg|
|86||Sri Lanka||1,502,126 kg|
|88||North Macedonia||1,126,010 kg|
|89||CÃ´te d'Ivoire||939,404 kg|
|90||Dominican Rep.||768,374 kg|
|109||Areas, nes||366,189 kg|
|115||Burkina Faso||193,232 kg|
|122||Democratic Republic of the Congo||147,105 kg|
|129||Brunei Darussalam||83,517 kg|
|133||Democratic People's Republic of Korea||66,000 kg|
|135||Cayman Isds||52,513 kg|
|136||Equatorial Guinea||44,051 kg|
|137||Bolivia (Plurinational State of)||42,858 kg|
|140||Trinidad and Tobago||31,811 kg|
|147||Saint Helena||19,587 kg|
|153||Saint Lucia||10,739 kg|
|155||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||8,281 kg|
|162||Turks and Caicos Isds||3,453 kg|
|166||Faeroe Isds||1,062 kg|
|171||Papua New Guinea||191 kg|
|173||Cabo Verde||100 kg|
|174||New Caledonia||73 kg|
|177||Cocos Isds||44 kg|
|178||Br. Virgin Isds||35 kg|
|179||Republic of Moldova||31 kg|
|180||Saint Pierre and Miquelon||5 kg|
|183||Sierra Leone||1 kg|
How the Plastic Waste Trade is Changing
Up until 2017, China was one of the world’s largest plastic waste importers, which it used for its manufacturing industries. In 2018, it imposed import bans on 24 types of recyclable waste, and their plastic waste imports dropped by over 95% within a year.
In 2019, 187 nations signed an international treaty called the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Aimed at addressing the gaps in plastic waste disposal, this treaty restricts participating nations from trading plastic scraps internationally, unless it lacks sufficient recycling or disposal capacity.
And over the last decade, the global plastic trade has indeed declined tremendously. But millions of tons of plastic are still being shipped (and mismanaged).
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