[GRRN] Pollution and Waste Increasing in Five Countries Despite More Efficient Use of Resources

From: Neil Tangri (ntangri@essential.org)
Date: Thu Sep 28 2000 - 06:38:31 EDT

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    > Contact: Adlai J. Amor at (1-202) 729 7736) or email:<aamor@wri.org>
    > WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2000 - A new report released today by the
    > World Resources Institute (WRI) reveals that the total output of wastes and
    > pollutants in Austria, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and the USA has
    > increased by as much as 28 percent since 1975 despite their increasing
    > efficiency in using natural resources.
    > The report also reveals that from one-half to three-quarters of the annual
    > resource inputs used in these five countries are returned to the
    > environment as wastes within one year.
    > "The resource efficiency gains brought about by the rise of e-commerce and
    > the shift from heavy industries toward knowledge- and service-based
    > industries have been more than offset by the tremendous scale of economic
    > growth and consumer choices that favor energy- and material -intensive
    > lifestyles," said Emily Matthews of WRI and lead author of The Weight of
    > Nations: Material Outflows from Industrial Economies.
    > She added that by its very nature, economic growth poses a fundamental
    > challenge to the environment's capacity to provide sufficient resources and
    > absorb wastes without serious degradation. "Better government policies and
    > savvy management practices on the part of industry can help to break the
    > link between economic growth and resource consumption and waste," Matthews
    > said.
    > The study was carried out by a team of researchers from Austria's Institute
    > of Interdisciplinary Studies of Austrian Universities, Germany's Wuppertal
    > Institute, Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies, The
    > Netherlands' Centre of Environmental Science at Leiden University and the
    > World Resources Institute.
    > The researchers documented the flow of raw materials -- including minerals,
    > fossil fuels, timber, and other agricultural products - in Austria,
    > Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, and the United States. These accounts of
    > the complete "materials cycle" or the flow of raw materials through the
    > processes of extraction, production, use, and disposal can be evaluated
    > alongside traditional monetary indicators, such as gross domestic product
    > (GDP), to measure the materials intensity of a country. The higher the
    > number of goods produced per unit of raw material or energy input, or waste
    > output, the more efficient a country is in using its resources.
    > The report concludes that standard economic indicators alone, such as the
    > GDP, are insufficient for evaluating the true state of global economies.
    > Such indicators, the authors write, neglect to consider whether or not
    > countries make efficient and sustainable use of the natural resource base
    > upon which their economies depend.
    > "Not only does such inefficiency strain the capacity of air, soil, and
    > water to absorb such waste, but it's also poor business practice," said
    > Matthews. "Why continue to waste expensive raw materials when becoming more
    > resource-efficient can increase companies' profit margins and also protect
    > the environment?"
    > The researchers also found that even though many countries have been
    > successful in regulating some of the most hazardous wastes, such as lead
    > and sulfur, outputs of many potentially harmful materials, such as arsenic,
    > continue to increase. The authors argue that this lack of control is
    > largely due to the fact that such emissions often occur at the extraction,
    > use, or disposal phases of the material cycle, instead of the more
    > regulated production phase.
    > They conclude that national accounts tracking the entire material cycle
    > would provide policy-makers, industry leaders, and the public at large with
    > more comprehensive information on the extraction, use, and disposal of such
    > potentially dangerous wastes. "We must understand the entire materials
    > cycle, since neither governments nor industries can effectively manage what
    > they don't measure," said Matthews.
    > The report confirms that the extraction and use of fossil energy resources
    > dominated output flows in all five countries. It shows that, excluding
    > "hidden" waste flows, carbon dioxide emissions account for more than 80
    > percent, by weight, of total waste flows in the countries studied. "The
    > atmosphere is by far the biggest dumping ground for industrial wastes,"
    > said Matthews.
    > There are positive trends, however. The study found that quantities of
    > solid wastes sent to landfills have stabilized or declined in some study
    > countries by 30 percent or more. Such reductions have been achieved, in
    > part, through increased recycling efforts.
    > Yet, the authors conclude, developing countries can be expected to attain
    > roughly the same high level of materials-intensity as the industrialized
    > countries. "Only if the level of materials intensity at which
    > industrialized and developing counties eventually converge is substantially
    > below that found in industrialized countries today can there be hope of
    > mitigating global environmental problems and sustainably supporting the
    > world's growing population," said Matthews.
    > She added that the establishment of national materials flow accounts and
    > efforts on the part of industry and citizens at genuine dematerialization
    > should have a strong claim on the policy, business, and human development
    > agendas.
    > The World Resources Institute (WRI) is a Washington, DC-based center for
    > research that provides objective information and practical proposals for
    > change to foster environmentally sound and sustainable development. WRI
    > works with institutions in more than 50 countries to bring the insights of
    > scientific research, economic analyses and practical experience to
    > political, business and nongovernmental organizations around the world. For
    > more information, visit WRI's website at: http://www.wri.org/wri

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