Our waste is out of control


Man’s use of materials in the modern world is massively wasteful. Industry is inefficient, only 9% of marginally input raw materials are used, cars on average waste 90% of fuel in their tanks. And the average MEDC household throws away up to 600 kg per person, per year. In addition there is much hidden waste material.

Only Greece has a worse record than the UK related to waste!

Until the last decade there had been little or no attention paid to this problem, in fact ‘one-time-use’ products and cheap consumer goods have actually exacerbated the problem. With greater attention being paid to the environment through various initiatives and dictates, much more attention will have to be paid to waste. With reduced numbers of places to safely dump material in the UK it is becoming a particular issue for us. Sustainable waste movement schemes and integrated waste management has to be instituted.


In the MEDCs the waste management policy has been a predictable one:


The usual option in the UK is to dump our waste materials into landfills. Nowadays these are carefully engineered. 83% of the UK’s waste ends up in landfills.

Nature operates a closed system of recovery and recycling. Our current waste practices have actually caused a break in the system by creating billions of tonnes of non-biodegradable material that just won’t breakdown naturally. Of the waste we actually produce only 5% is hazardous, some 60% will decay naturally, the remaining percentages are made up of dredging/sewage sludge and construction debris.

Landfill taxes have lead to a £10 million drop in official waste deposition.

CASE STUDY - The ‘disposable’ problem - Disposables have an after life! They represent about 4% of household waste, and fester and rot for up to two or three decades before they begin to breakdown. They use up to three times the amount of energy used to produce and clean terry nappies. Estimated costs to remove and dispose of nappy waste is in the order of £40 million. Solution? The women’s environment network has an alternative, arguing that terry nappies are more environmentally sound and cheaper.

Forget the take away – the throw-away’s the problem Every year Britain throws away up to 5 000 000 tonnes of edible food, valued at £400 million per year, with landfill tax and disposal costs at £50 million. This vast wastage troubles many, charities, the environmental groups and the major supermarkets. 20% of all food produced in this country is at present destroyed. The principal driving force behind this dumping is due to government intervention to maintain fair prices! The 13 milion who live in poverty in this country at present only benefit from about 3000 tonnes of ‘give aways’.

‘Think globally, act locally’ - Farmers’ markets where growers sell direct are making a welcome reappearance in Britain. These range in size from high profile venues to the ‘square’ in the market towns of lowland Britain. And why are these markets reappearing? Because:

  • they reduce travelling
  • they reduce unnecessary packaging
  • farmers get the true value of their products


Regulating controls are probably the key to the problems of waste in this country (coupled with increased environmental incineration). Methods include: maintaining and extending the land fill tax scheme /educating rather than legislating /tax by weight all household waste (though this may encourage fly tipping)/encourage separation of waste /reduce bin size /encourage waste-free thinking.

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