Vores miljøskadelige materialeforbrug

På engelsk, med Stefan Bringezu fra Wuppertal Instituttet

Jeg lavede et oplæg til International Waste Associations (ISWA) verdenskongres i København 2006. Jeg blev derefter opfordret til, sammen med Stefan Bringezu fra Wupperthal instituttet, til at lave en artikel til ISWAs “Waste Management and Research“. Artiklen blev bragt i Waste Management & Research i juni 2007 i redigeret justeret form under titlen “Need to drive the global change”

Need for changes of the global picture

by Knud Vilby and Stefan Bringezu

Europe has a long history of using resources from the rest of the world. The demand for resources was a driving force behind colonialism. European powers wanted to get access to minerals and other resources outside Europe. Precious commodities from other continents filled the treasuries of European kingdoms, and merchandise from the East and West Indies inspired the townsmen and women of what luxury they would need. Besides exploitation of domestic resources which triggered industrialisation, imports from the colonies contributed to the creation of an unequal world with an unprecedented concentration of wealth in Europe. Production and trade patterns have since changed but Europes development is still to a large degree based on resources from other continents. It is old knowledge that exporting agricultural countries like The Netherlands and Denmark with intensive cultivation and animal husbandry are relying heavily on other countries to be able to produce the feeding stuff and fertilizers and the oil upon which the production is based. They are indirectly occupying soil and resources at other continents. More than 10 years ago The Dutch delegation at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994) discussed “ecoscope”. The Dutch national report stated that in spite of decline in population growth the Dutch society can only “sustain its current level by using the “ecoscope” or environmental carrying capacity of other countries”. Densely populated high consuming industrialised countries are using much more than their own resources, also in their industrial production and consumption. With changing production patterns, however, primary commodities are not to the same degree as before imported to Europe to form the basis for industrial production here. A major share of the industrial production takes place outside Europe, but still in ways which mean, that Europe is both producing and consuming at the ecological expense of other regions, and is increasingly doing so. Examples are plenty: It takes about 20 kg of abiotic raw materials to produce a 0,09 gramme chip, and 1500 kg of abiotic raw materials and 60.000 liters of water to produce a 4-86 PC with a 15 inch monitor (Figure 1). The ThinkPad is smaller and smaller and very lightweight and easy to bring along, but the production of notebooks we consume in Europe creates millions of tons of waste. Most of it outside Europe. And in one area the situation is becoming very much like in the colonial era. Metal mining and refining is to an increasing degree taking place outside Europe and it is associated with extremely high and even growing volumes of waste and emissions. It is the mining and refining of metals which contribute most to ecological rucksack of electric and electronic products. Other countries in the world are increasingly following European and American production and consumption patterns, but a global adoption of our development will be a major threat to the natural environment and to the world’s resource- and living base. It will also further speed up the already very visible climate change. Recycling is part of the solution but we are fooling ourselves if we believe that recycling can solve the problem. In a very advanced country like Germany recycled materials in 2000 contributed 15 % of domestic material use, but seen in a global perspective and considering total material consumption of the country, it is not more than 5-6 %. More than 90 % of materials used in production processes (from fuel to metals and minerals) are only used one time and never recycled. Focus has to be on minimizing the generation of waste along the whole chain of production processes. Whereas focus in Europe has been on recycling of produced waste, and whereas recycling has become big business, the new focus has to be on reduction of material use long before products end up as waste. It is important to recycle waste from electronic equipment, but it is even much more essential to look into product processes with the aim of reducing the huge amounts of water and raw materials used to produce a PC. Such reduction will also automatically reduce the amount of energy used in the production process. The total material requirement of a Western European citizen is about 50 tonnes per capita (Figure 2). This comprises all primary materials taken from nature, 60% from the domestic environment and 40% from other regions which supply our imports. The foreign hidden or rucksack flows of the imports mainly represent mining waste of metals and coal. The domestic unused extraction of mining contributes to mining waste which exceeds the mass of controlled waste deposition more than ten times. A further characteristic of our physical economy is that the input exceeds the output. The materials additionally stocked on new buildings and infrastructures amounts to about 10 tonnes per capita. This is the major reason impeding the establishment of a recycling economy. As long as the demand for materials for new goods outweighs the release of waste from the use phase it cannot be fullfilled even by a 100 % recycling. A higher share of recycling inputs will only be reached when approaching an equilibrium between inputs and outputs, when the construction of new buildings and infrastructures will be compensated by the deconstruction of old ones. On the long run, the net addition to stock will become zero. Otherwise we would have to build over all our countries with constructions. Currently, the majority of resource input is naturally non renewable. In the future the material basis of our economy might be characterised by a more regenerative supply. Not necessarily through the increase of biomass harvest. Here the global land available for agriculture and forestry sets rather strict limits. Rather, the requirements for minerals will have to be reduced by a factor of 10 within this century. In order to reach this target, the use of fossil fuels for combustion need to be phased out, and the reduction of the net addition to stock will also help to reduce the primary mineral demand significantly. The wider perspective is a dematerialization of economic growth which will bring both environmental and socio-economic benefits. And which is a necessity to avoid a major global environmental break down. Our ecological rucksacks have to come down in size. We cannot continue to base our life on areas and resources much much bigger than the globe can provide, if all the worlds 8-9 billions people demand the same living standards as we have. The discussion about over consumption in Europe and North America is old. But problems are getting increasingly serious with the present economic development creating both new global “over-consumers” and a new proletariat of millions of poor most likely to become the first victims when the climate changes and when many tropical countries will experience more droughts, increased water scarcity and more difficult conditions for cultivation. Many non-Western countries these years have to carry both their own burdens and a big part of the environmental burden of the Western industrialised countries. We sometimes talk about burden-sharing, but basically we are transferring a big share of our environmental burden to other parts of the world. Back in the 1980’s we could say that the 25 % of the global population in the West was responsible for 75 % of consumption of energy and most other essential primary commodities. To day this is no longer true. Other countries, and most noticeably China and India, see a growth making it possible for hundreds of millions of people to adopt our consumption patterns, but often with even higher environmental consequences, because environmental standards are less strict and the amount of pollution and waste created per unit of production is higher than in Europe. Industrialising developing countries with rapid economic growth suffer from severe local and national pollution and other environmental problems both from the products they consume themselves and from the production and export of commodities and industrial products to the West, often with below standard technology. This pollution is less visible in our part of the world. We do not to day have the same heavily polluted industrial areas in Europe as 50 years ago. But millions of humans outside Europe suffer from production both for domestic consumption and export. In addition many developing countries experience new types of environmental problems both because they have industrial growth without environmental protection and recycling systems, and because Western countries export non-recyclable waste, including especially hazardous waste, to be treated or deposed in some of the poorest countries in the world. Whereas we in Europe today tend to see environmental problems as partly invisible, having to do with the emission of greenhouse gasses, the problems are very visible in many poorer countries. They result in air and water pollution, problems with solid waste and extremely unhealthy working environments for millions of people involved in the production of consumer goods for Europe. It is official EU community policy that the protection of the environment shall be based upon the precautionary principle and that “environmental damage as a priority should be rectified at source and that the polluter pay” (EU treaty para 174.2). But the fact is that we in the EU in very many cases follow a policy and practice which makes people in other parts of the world pay what should be our costs. Industrialising developing countries these years pay both for their own and for part of our over consumption and pollution. Other and poorer developing countries are facing different types of environmental problems. They are increasingly going to suffer because the Western over consumption of fossil energy has resulted in climate change and global warming with more drought and less rains especially in the tropical belt. The likely development is that these countries in the coming decades will fall further behind. There will be more soil degradation and erosion and more severe water scarcity. A worst case scenario points towards more international conflicts and more refugees, partly as a result of environmental degradation. There is no longer a simple North-South picture in the discussion about consumption and related environmental problems. A big elite in developing countries have consumption patterns similar to ours, while almost a billion people are still forced to live for less than one US dollar a day. They are at the same time the people, who experience pollution and other environmental problems first and worst. It has become more and more obvious, that it is necessary to save the ecology of the world also to be able to save the economy. An ecological break down will harm all sectors of the global society, and although the poorest will be the first to suffer the consequences will be global. The lesson for Europe is that global environmental problems are also European problems and vice versa. Such problems therefore are not solved through outsourcing of polluting production, export of waste, or diffusion of waste through air and water. The problems will all come back. The necessary changes involve policies and practise in many sectors, such as e. g. the ene gy sector. But efforts to prevent waste by reducing material use in all types of production from cradle to grave (the life cycle wide approach) are essential and not at all focused sufficiently upon. Recycling is important and industrialising developing countries need to develop recycling systems, but it is even more important to minimize waste generation. By doing so the use of resources is reduced throughout the production process. Increasing resource efficiency in production and the delivery of services will also reduce costs for industry. Material costs of manufacturing still clearly exceed labour costs. Instead of firing people it makes more economic sense to reduce material use. More and more companies become aware of the opportunities of increased resource efficiency. The overall trend of the economy has already embarked towards this direction. Still, the lagging attempts need to be enhanced, and national governments such as in UK and Germany have started programmes to guide industry exploring their potentials for improvement. It is also a huge challenge for the waste management business to create new business fields beyond recycling and enter the dematerialisation arena. If Europe really wants to become the most competitive economy of the world increasing resource productivity will be key. It does make sense from an economic point of view. And it provides the unique opportunity to reduce the waste load to the global environment and proceed towards a more equal burden sharing worldwide. Following this approach it becomes more realistic to begin talking about sustainable production and consumption. But time is scarce.
Source: Basis NEC 80486 and Wuppertal Institute

Figure 2. The metabolism of the European Union and long-term target values for sustainable development (Bringezu 2004).

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