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Tuesday 30 December 2003

Is Recycling Trivial?

Is divorce bad for the climate? Gadget-hungry people and shrinking household sizes are creating a huge unnoticed problem for the climate, according to a report for a new website.

It warns that as manufacturers produce increasingly energy-efficient goods to protect the climate, people are simply buying and using more of them – and wiping out many of the environmental gains.

And it suggests that families should concentrate on major savings in energy like buying a more efficient car or turning down the heating by a degree or two, rather than focusing on relatively trivial issues like recycling.

The controversial statistics suggest that swapping a 4X4 car for a normal family saloon for just one year would equal the savings in energy from recycling a household’s bottles for 400 years.

The sums were done by former Dutch former physics professor Jan Kooijman for the packaging industry body known as INCPEN. The industry feels it is being targeted for too many environmental rules because the government is nervous of tackling the real cause of climate change: lifestyles and a growing economy.

Dr Kooijmans says the current trend of people living alone is making matters worse because each household needs hundreds of essential items from toothpaste to toilet brushes and bread knives to clocks. Each of these items has created greenhouse gases as part of the production process.

This presents a challenge to housebuilders, Dr Kooijman says: perhaps they should be planning for shared launderettes in flats instead of individual washer/driers.

But the greater challenge is arguably to government. Consumer spending boosts the economy and is popular. How to juggle people’s wants with the perceived need to protect the climate is not an easy question.

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