- Fossil fuel depletion
- Other non-renewable resource use
- Water use
- Global warming potential
- Stratospheric ozone depletion
- Ground level ozone (smog) creation
- Neutrification/eutrophication of water bodies
- Acidification and acid deposition (dry and wet)
- Toxic releases to air, water and land
While LCA may be a complex science with still relatively limited data, understanding the core principles, and applying Life Cycle thinking is extremely important to change mindset on how we view resource.
To learn about LCA and find valuable tools, consult the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute at http://www.athenasmi.org
Make the Connection
The following facts from the Global Development Research Centre (http://www.gdrc.org/uem/waste/waste.html), demonstrate a few of the broad and long lasting impacts of the choices we make:
- The UN Development Program (UNDP) estimates that more than five million people die each year from diseases related to inadequate waste disposal systems;
- At least 60% of the countries that submitted national reports to the United Nations in advance of the 1992 Earth Summit said that solid waste disposal was among their biggest environmental concerns;
- Industrialized countries generate more than 90% of the world’s annual total of some 325-375 million tons of toxic and hazardous waste, mostly from the chemical and petrochemical industries;
- Most countries in the developed world only introduced laws to control hazardous waste disposal in the 1970s and are left with a vast heritage of pre-legislation sites. Nearly 2% of North America’s underground aquifers may be contaminated by such dumps. Germany has identified 35,000 problem sites, Denmark has 3,200 and the Netherlands 4,000. (The CRI Council will seek to learn more about such sites in North America and elsewhere);
- Landfill Gas: One tonne of waste tipped in a landfill produces between 200 and 400 cubic metres of landfill gas. Methane is about 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide and allowing methane to escape into the atmosphere has significant global warming implications.
- Landfill Leachate: During landfill site operation, a liquid known as ‘Leachate’ is produced. This is a mixture of organic degradation products, liquid waste and rain water. Leachate is extremely variable in composition depending on the nature of the waste in the landfill and the landfill design, but typically it has high organic carbon content, high concentrations of nitrogen and is usually slightly acidic. Landfills are designed and operate to seal the waste as much as possible from the surrounding environment. Central to this environmental protection is avoiding groundwater contamination.
GLOBAL WASTE AT A GLANCE
Today, there are countless options to better research and educate on the negative impacts associated with untenable consumption and production. Yet, as the world hurtles toward its urban future, the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW), one of the most important by-products of an urban lifestyle, is growing even faster than the rate of urbanization. At the turn of the Century, there were 2.9 billion urban residents who generated about 0.64 kg of MSW per person per day (0.68 billion tonnes per year). ‘What a Waste – A Global Review of Solid Waste Management’ 2012 report by The World Bank, indicates that these amounts had increased to about 3 billion residents generating 1.2 kg per person per day (1.3 billion tonnes per year). By 2025 this will likely increase to 4.3 billion urban residents generating about 1.42 kg/capita/day of municipal solid waste (2.2 billion tonnes per year).
Global Waste Management Practices
- In solid waste management there is no throwing ‘away’.
- The organic fraction of waste, collection vehicles, and waste disposal methods contribute to GHG emissions.
- The last two decades have brought a new challenge for waste management: the growing vagaries of global secondary materials markets.
- MSW generation levels are expected to double by 2025.
- The higher the income level and rate of urbanization, the greater the amount of solid waste produced.
- OECD countries produce almost half of the world’s waste, while Africa and South Asia regions produce the least waste.
- MSW collection is an important aspect in maintaining public health in cities around the world.
- The amount of MSW collected varies widely by region and income level; collection within cities can also differ greatly.
- Collection rates range from a low of 41% in low-income countries to a high of 98% in high-income countries.
- Waste composition is influenced by factors such as culture, economic development, climate, and energy sources; composition impacts how often waste is collected and how it is disposed.
- Low-income countries have the highest proportion of organic waste.
- Paper, plastics, and other inorganic materials make up the highest proportion of MSW in high-income countries.
- By region, EAP has the highest proportion of organic waste at 62%, while OECD countries have the least at 27%, although total amount of organic waste is still highest in OECD countries.
- Although waste composition is usually provided by weight, as a country’s affluence increases, waste volumes tend to be more important, especially with regard to collection: organics and inerts generally decrease in relative terms, while increasing paper and plastic increases overall waste volumes.
- Landfilling and thermal treatment of waste are the most common methods of MSW disposal in high-income countries.
- Although quantitative data is not readily available, most low- and lower middle-income countries dispose of their waste in open dumps.
- Several middle-income countries have poorly operated landfills; disposal should likely be classified as controlled dumping.