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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.

Global waste production

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

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:

Less is bought because people are typically on lower incomes

Less packaging is used on products
Disposable items (eg razors, plastic plates and nappies) are used less
Lower literacy levels means there is less production of written material

Reducing waste
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.
Waste hierarchy diagram

National strategies and targets

The government sets recycling targets for local councils.
Government grants are available for businesses and households installing environmentally
friendly technologies, such as solar panels.
New buildings have strict national guidelines for energy efficiency.

Local strategies and targets

Combined Heat and Power systems [combined heat and power system: A system which
recovers heat lost through the production of energy and uses it to produce hot water. This
can be used by homes or public buildings. ] can be put in place.
One example is the Southampton Community Heating Scheme where luxury apartments are
served by one community boiler, reducing energy wastage and costs.
Schools and communities can also put in place measures - such as recycling bins or
informative posters - to raise awareness of energy wastage (eg reminding people to turn
lights off).

Household responsibilities

Solar panels on the roof of a house, converting sunlight directly into electricity

Households are given different types of bin to sort their waste into. Recycling bins are
sometimes collected more frequently to encourage their use.
People can install insulation and double glazing to conserve household energy.
There is reduced VAT to pay for installing environmentally friendly technologies in homes.

The image below shows some ways of saving energy and using environmentally friendly
There are many ways in which a household can save energy

Recycling strategies by retailers

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

Activities that recycle waste

Waste plastics from the stores should be recycled into carrier bags for customer use.
Packaging for products should be minimised.
Waste packaging is recycled into products such as tissues.
Organic (food) waste is converted into biomass energy, which can be sold back into the
national grid.

Industrial pollution
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:

Air pollution in Shanghai

It may damage the wellbeing of humans and other species. For example, industrial waste
can pollute drinking-water supplies or poison plants and animals.
It may interfere with natural processes. For example, industrial waste could change local
climatic conditions or destroy wildlife habitats.
It may impact on people's livelihoods. For example, pollution of the sea will affect people
who are involved in the fishing and tourism industries.

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.

Case study: Gulf of Mexico oil spill and BP

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.

Economic impact
The government asked for $20 billion in damages from BP and BP's share price fell.
Local industries, such as fishing was threatened. There was a ban on fishing in the water.
Tourism declined.

Environmental impact
Environmental worker rescuing an oil-covered pelican

Plants and animals were completely covered in the oil. Seabirds, sea turtles and dolphins
have been found dead.
Oil that entered wetland areas meant recovery would be slow.
Fish stocks were harmed, and productivity decreased.

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.

Solutions to industrial energy wastage

In the EU there are strict guidelines and targets to be met, which came into force in 2008. They

rules on the disposal of hazardous waste

limiting pollution released into the air or groundwater from landfill
restrictions on the use of hazardous materials in vehicles
strict standards for packaging design

The car industry

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.

Carbon footprints
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.
Pie chart showing a break down of a typical persons footprint in a MEDC

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.

Carbon dioxide emissions per capita, per person (in tonnes)

Country 19902006
Australia 17.4 18.1
United States 19.0 19.0
Germany 12.1 9.7
Japan 9.5 10.1
Italy 7.5 8.1
United Kingdom 10.0 9.4
Singapore 15.6 12.8
United Arab Emirates29.4 32.8
Qatar 25.2 56.2
Brazil 1.4 1.9
Thailand 1.8 4.3
Egypt 1.4 2.2
South Africa 9.1 8.6
Kenya 0.2 0.3
Bangladesh 0.1 0.3
Ethiopia 0.1 0.1
Sierra Leone 0.1 0.2