26. Households

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The domestic sector is an important area of the economy but is often unjustly overlooked as a source of environmental damage. Household spending accounts for a significant proportion of total industrial production, averaging just over 70 per cent in Europe as a whole and ranging from 56 per cent in the former USSR to 89 per cent in Greece in the late 1980s (ERM based on UN, 1992, and Euromonitor, 1992). The choices made by individuals concerning purchase of consumer items and how to run their homes can significantly influence environmental impacts from the domestic and other sectors. It is this range of behaviour and scope for choice which is addressed here. The main sources of data used in this chapter are described in Box 26A.


A useful definition of 'households' for the purposes of this report is: a '... household denotes a person or group of persons, related or not to one another, who occupy the same accommodation and live there together' (CEC, 1993).

Households consume raw materials, electricity, other forms of energy, food and manufactured items while generating wastes which are released to land, water and air. They also require transport facilities and an infrastructure which may affect landuse, the landscape and natural resources. They therefore have direct impacts on the quality of the environment as described in Chapters 4 to 10.

Population growth, together with a trend towards fewer people per household, is contributing to a large rise in the number of households in the EU and EFTA countries (an increase of around 10 per cent between 1980 and 1990) (Euromonitor, 1992). There is a similar trend in Central and Eastern Europe. In the former USSR, however, the rate of growth is constrained by the shortage of suitable housing. Smaller households use water and energy less efficiently and require more land per household member, so that these trends lead to greater per capita resource use.

Patterns of household consumption and consumer behaviour influence the environmental effects of households. At the same time households themselves are influenced by the physical and climatic conditions of their location and a variety of demographic, social and economic factors, including: household income; availability of goods; availability and quality of substitutes; environmental awareness of consumers; and culture and peer group pressure.

The direct environmental impacts of households arise from the consumption of resources, emissions and the other induced pressures on the environment described in Chapters 12 to 18. Use of resources and emissions which occur away from the household (for example, those associated with electricity generation, industrial or agricultural production of consumer items) is addressed under the specific sectorial chapters of interest (eg, Chapters 19, 20 and 22).

The importance of the household sector, therefore, lies in its demand for resources, the waste generated by consumption of those resources and its capacity to influence industrial and commercial activities through its spending power. This influence can be shown through the exercise of consumer choice, either in increased demand for perceived 'environment-friendly' products or in the avoidance of less 'friendly' products or manufacturers.

The significant environmental impacts stemming directly from the presence, consumption of resources and emissions of households are summarised in Table 26.1.


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26.1 - Introduction
26.2 - Definition and importance of households
26.3 - Resource needs of households

26.3.1 - Land
26.3.2 - Water
26.3.3 - Energy

26.4 - Emissions from households

26.4.1 - To air
26.4.2 - Solid waste - The volume - The recycleability - The presence of chemical pollutants

26.5 - Driving forces

26.5.1 - Population growth, number of households and household size
26.5.2 - Growth in disposable income and consumer spending
26.5.3 - Greater availability, affordability and sophistication of consumer items - Vehicle ownership and use

26.5.4 - Public attitudes to the environmental impacts of products

26.6 - Examples of control measures

26.6.1 - Coercive measures
26.6.2 - Financial regulation
26.6.3 - Information and training
26.6.4 - Institutional instruments

26.7 - Conclusions

Geographic coverage

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
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