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The Facts


new internationalist
issue 203 - January 1990

Waste - The FACTS

Westerners are destroying the earth by consuming its wealth in wasteful ways.
We are extravagant with limited resources, producing vast amounts of polluting refuse.
These facts illustrate why we all need to lessen our impact on the environment.


The rich North consumes 80% of the world’s global resources, while three-quarters of the world’s population who live in the poor South share what is left.¹

In one year the average person in the West is likely to:²

. consume more than 264 lbs of paper, compared to an average consumption of just 17.6 lbs per person in the Third World.

. consume over 990 lbs of steel compared with 94.6 lbs in the Third World.

. consume 57.2 lbs of other metals compared with 4.4 lbs in the Third World.

. purchase energy equivalent to almost 6 tons of coal compared with 0.5 tons in the Third World.


[image, unknown] Western industry produces vast amounts of toxic waste, much of which is dumped in the Third World.

. Since 1986 over 3 million tons of toxic waste have been shipped from Western Europe and North America to other countries.3

. About 125,000 tons of toxic waste are sent to the Third World from Europe each year.4

[image, unknown]


Westerners waste between 30 and 100 gallons of water daily. The average American flushes away more water every day than a Madagascan uses in three months.5

[image, unknown]


Industrial farming techniques destroy the environment.

. Every decade 7 % of the world’s soil is lost through large scale farming techniques. In the US farmers work the soil so hard that an area twice the size of California has been rendered unproductive.5

. The use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is responsible for over half of all water pollution in the US. 5 By 1983 both European and North American farmers were using about 22 billion tons of artificial fertilizer a year on their fields.6

. The numbers of damaging insect species resistant to pesticide have multiplied from 160 to 450 since 1960; between 1950 and 1967 pesticide
use in the US shot up by 169%.7

. An estimated one million people worldwide are unintentionally poisoned by pesticides every year.7


Most energy comes from non-renewable sources; the West cannot sustain its current levels of energy consumption.

. The US has just 6% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s energy – compared with India where 20% of the global population use only 2% of the world’s energy.5

. Private cars use about 7% of the world’s non-industrial energy or 17% of the oil used annually.7

. Specially designed houses can cut energy costs by 75 per cent.

[image, unknown]


Consumers have the power to make governments and industries adopt environment-friendly policies; they have already forced the shift from leaded to unleaded fuel, the replacement of ‘hard’ detergents with ‘soft’ and stimulated demand for organically grown produce.

. Manufacturers in the UK attract extra sales from one third of the population when some aspect of a product is green.9

. Today more than 2 out of 5 Britons say they buy products on environmental grounds — over double the number who did so in 1988.10

. In Australia, consumer outrage over Sydney’s beach pollution forced the Government to levy a tax of Aus$80 per year on households, to fund cleaning programmes.11


Westerners produce more waste than any other society in history. But as the Third World countries industrialize they are beginning to catch up.

[image, unknown]

. As examples of waste in the industrializing Third World here is the amount thrown away per person per year in three major cities: Singapore 538 lbs; Mexico City 321 lbs; and Jakarta 305 lbs.5


The atmosphere is being destroyed by Western consumption.

. Several holes have appeared in the ozone layer — the part of the atmosphere that protects us from the sun’s harmful rays. The damage is associated with chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) which are used as propellants in aerosols. If the ozone layer thins by just 1% it could result in 15,000 new cases of cancer annually in the US alone.1

. CFCs are one of the many gases contributing to a heating of the earth’s atmosphere known as the greenhouse effect. The temperature has risen by around one degree centigrade over the last 150 years.2 A rise in average temperatures of three degrees centigrade could result in the melting of glaciers and icecaps, and widespread flooding.

. Car exhausts and the burning of fossil fuels pollute the atmosphere with sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other chemicals. These combine to cause acid rain which kills forests and lakes. Half of all high level lakes have been damaged in the US, and at least 4,000 of Canada’s lakes have died.2

1. Seeing Green, by Jonathon Porrit. Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1984).
Green Consumer Guide, John Elkington and Julia Hailes, (Gollancz, 1988).
The International Trade in Wastes, Greenpeace policy statement, January 1989.
‘Toxic waste for a small planet’, David Weir in Consumer Lifelines, IOCU Apd. 1989).
Gaia Atlas of Planet Management edited by Norman Myers. (Pan. 1985).
Blueprint for a Green Planet, John Seymour and Herbert Giradet, (Dorling Kindersley, 1987).
State of the Environment, Easem El Hinnawi and Manzur H. Hashmi, (UN Environment Programme, 1987).
How to Be Green, John Button. (Century Hulchinson. 1989).
What’s New In Marketing, August 1980.
The Observer, UK, 24.9.89.
Consuming Interest, Australian Consumers’ Association, October, 1989.
Acid Rain, Steve Elsworth. (Pluto, 1984).

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New Internationalist issue 203 magazine cover This article is from the January 1990 issue of New Internationalist.
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