Friday, 8 July 2011

Waste from the Western World

We are all aware of the huge amount of waste generated in the West but in our daily lives it is easy to forget this. I recently came across some startling data in the seminal book Natural Capitalism: the New Industrial Revolution by Hawken, Lovins and Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute, 1999).

The information below is for the USA but other developed countries need not feel sanctimonious!

The data  is probably an understatement because the world-wide industrial-cum-consumer engine will have grown a lot in the intervening decade, despite the recent slow down; although some efficiency and recycling measures will have been taken.

On average the US citizen wastes or causes to be wasted 1 million pounds per year. In the nation as a whole the annual wastage includes:

  • 3.5 billion (3,500,000,000) pounds of landfilled carpet

  • 3.3 trillion (3,300,000,000,000) pounds of carbon dioxide

  • 19 billion pounds of polystyrene peanuts (I’ve no idea what these are but this is not a joke)

  • 28 billion pounds of food discarded at home

  • 710 billion pounds of hazardous industrial waste

  • 3.7 trillion pounds of construction debris

Add to this the waste generated abroad on behalf of US citizens and subtract the 2% of waste which is recycled (mainly paper, glass, plastic, aluminium and steel) and we get 250 trillion pounds of US resources transformed into nonproductive matter each year.

One can only quake at the thought of these being scaled up globally. A third world country typically produces less than 10% of these amounts per person, yet they all aspire to develop western-type economies, including China and India with a combined population of 2.5 billion, which is 8x the US population.

Can anything be done about it? Yes, but it needs a change of mindset to make a real impact.

Author, 2077 AD