Waste and pollution
As countries develop and consumption increases so does the amount of waste per capita, and pollution becomes a greater problem. There are global, national and local strategies in place to reduce levels of waste and minimise impact on the environment.
The amount and type of waste produced varies between countries.
MEDCs [MEDC: A More Economically Developed Country (MEDC) has high levels of development based on economic indicators such as gross domestic product (the country's income). ] have higher levels of consumption, so many produce more waste than LEDCs [LEDC: A Less Economically Developed Country (LEDC) has low levels of development, based on economic indicators, such as gross domestic product (the country's income). ]. Ireland and the USA produce over 700 kg of waste per person per year. In LEDCs the figure is around 150 kg per person per year. This difference is due to different levels of consumption; it is also more common to reuse items in LEDCs.
As a country becomes more wealthy, the demand for consumer items increases. This means that items are replaced more frequently - leading to larger quantities of waste. For example, mobile phones and computers that still work may be discarded for a newer version.
In LEDCs waste production is lower because:
The image below shows that preventing waste in the first place is the most favourable option. Where this is not possible, then re-using [re-use: To use a resource more than once. For example, a milk bottle can be used again if it is returned and refilled. ] products or recycling [recycle: To use a material more than once. For example, a glass bottle can be recycled by melting it down and re-forming it as a jam jar. ] is better for the environment than disposal in a landfill.
The image below shows some ways of saving energy and using environmentally friendly technology.
Many major food, clothing and furniture retailers, now have 'zero waste to landfill' targets. This means that within a few years, they aim to recycle 100% of their waste, with none of it going to landfills. To do this they look at sustainable [sustainable: Doing something in a way that minimises damage to the environment and avoids using up natural resources, eg by using renewable resources. ] ways to process and recycle waste. An audit of materials used has to take place to identify where waste is occuring, and then strategies are undertaken to recycle or cut down on this material.
Any large-scale economic activity may have a negative impact on the natural environment. Manufacturing industries in particular can cause air, water and noise pollutionpollution: contamination of the environment, usually by chemicals. Industrial pollution can affect the environment in a number of ways:
Some governments have introduced legislation to try to cut down on avoidable pollution and to encourage industries that are more sustainable [sustainable: Doing something in a way that minimises damage to the environment and avoids using up natural resources, eg by using renewable resources. ]. These laws need to be enforced by courts.
On 20 April 2010 a deepwater oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.
The immediate effect was that it killed 11 people and injured 17 others. Oil leaked at a high rate which is difficult to calculate. Some estimates are around 40,000 barrels a day. The oil spill posed risks to the environment and affected local industry.
The impact this oil spill was depended on which parts of the coastline you look at. It is difficult to measure the effects because of seasonal changes in wildlife.
The size of the oil spill was one of the largest America had seen. However because the oil entered warm waters, organisms in the water helped to breakdown the oil. The overall effect may be less than Exxon Valdez Oil spill in 1989 which happened in colder water.
In the EU there are strict guidelines and targets to be met, which came into force in 2008. They include:
For example, the car industry has seen many changes due to recent regulations and pressure to reform. One project, called the LIFE project (based in the Netherlands) aims to reuse second-hand car components when repairing cars. By developing links with car dismantlers, body shops and owners, 6,000 cars were repaired with used parts.
A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment. It calculates all the greenhouse gases [greenhouse gas: Naturally occurring gases in the atmosphere such carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. They are believed to have increased through burning more oil, petrol, and coal. ] we are expected to produce in all our activities and measures them in units of carbon dioxide. The world average is about 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide per person. In the UK it is nearly 10,000 kg per person.
As a country develops, its carbon footprint tends to increase. This pattern is shown in the table below, with MEDCs emitting the most carbon dioxide.
|United Arab Emirates||29.4||32.8|