Waste disposal

'The Earth is infinitely bountiful', so say the eco-sceptics. The reality is that society cannot continue to consume natural assets at the current rate. For example, the ecological footprint is the area of land (and sea) taken up to meet the needs of individuals or societies. A citizen of the US uses 34 acres; in the UK the average per capita is 14 acres; Pakistan, 1.6 acres. Worldwide the average is 4.5 acres due mainly to consumption in the industrialised nations. In ecological terms this means that the Earth is already living beyond its means. In 1962 it took 0.7 years for the annual biological harvest to regenerate. Currently it takes 1.25 years which means the natural capital account is going increasingly 'into the red' (Mathis Wackernagel at a conference 'Redefining Progress', February 2003 reported in The Guardian, 20 February 2003). This provides the context for considering the problems of waste.

The waste being generated by the increasing consumerist ethos of the industrialised nations imposes four penalties:

• depletion of natural resources;

• energy involved in disposal;

• increasing pressure on land for waste disposal;

• pollution arising from landfill disposal.

There is a temptation to think that when waste is thrown away, that's the end of it. Far from it. From being our problem it becomes someone else's. At the same time we may be placing a valuable recyclable resource beyond use. As the natural capital of the Earth is being steadily eroded this is increasingly an ethical as well as an economic problem. Land is Earth's most valuable commodity which is being increasingly diminished by building development and landfill sites.

The market economy encourages ever more vigorous consumerism which, in turn, increases the rate of obsolescence. Packaging and style upgrades exploit the human drive to be seen to be in the height of fashion. The irony is that our most expensive artefact after a house is the car which is designed for increasingly longer life. More and more cars are being claimed to have passed the million mile mark. So, constant style changes and technological tinkering rather than functional efficiency are needed to keep the market buoyant. Nations measure their success by the level of per capita GDP and the extent of annual economic growth. These dictate a nation's standing in relation to other countries, not least within highly influential bodies like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The consequence of this is that there is growing concern about how to dispose of the escalating quantities of waste. The solution starts in the home. Local councils are under growing pressure to collect waste in segregated bins to facilitate recycling. This should be a major issue in local elections. At the same time householders can do a great deal to help the process along by:

• reusing items wherever possible, notably plastic bags and containers;

• composting organic kitchen waste and most garden waste (some plants are not suitable for composting). Some councils offer composting bins at a discount;

• separating waste at source and, where there are not segregated collection facilities, delivering to appropriate waste bins.

There may be an added incentive to reduce the amounts of household waste. Plans are being considered to levy a charge for each bin collection from a home.

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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