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Our well-being depends on using natural resources. We extract resources, and transform them into food, buildings, furniture, electronic devices, clothes, etc. Yet, our exploitation of resources outpaces the environment’s ability to regenerate them and provide for us. How can we ensure the long-term well-being of our society? Greening our economy can certainly help.
We are using more and more of natural resources due to population growth, lifestyle changes and increasing personal consumption. To tackle our unsustainable consumption, we need to address the entire resource system, including production methods, demand patterns and supply chains. We take a closer look at food.
Waste is not only an environmental problem, but also an economic loss. On average Europeans produce 481 kilogrammes of municipal waste per year. An increasing share of this is recycled or composted, and less is sent to landfill. How can we change the way we produce and consume so as to produce less and less waste, while using all waste as a resource?
We need to change the way we produce goods and services. We need to ‘green’ our economy. But this does not consist of developing just a number of selected sectors, such as renewables, eco-innovation, corresponding to 5 or even 10 percent of our economy. It requires greening the entire economy. The question is: ‘How do we create a performing economy that creates jobs and ensures our well-being, and yet respects the limits of our planet?’
Europe produces large amounts of waste. How does Europe manage its waste? Is it a problem or a resource? We asked these questions to Almut Reichel who works on waste and sustainable consumption issues at the European Environment Agency.
Around one third of the food produced globally is lost or wasted. When more than one billion people around the world go to bed feeling hungry, it is impossible not to ask what can be done. But food waste is not only a missed opportunity to feed the hungry. It also represents a substantial loss of other resources such as land, water, energy - and labour.
From densely populated cities to remote settlements, everywhere we live, we generate waste. Food leftovers, electronic waste, batteries, paper, plastic bottles, clothing, old furniture - they all need to be disposed of. Some end up re-used or recycled; others are burned for energy or sent to landfills. There is not a single way to manage waste that would work everywhere. How we do it needs to take into account local circumstances. After all, waste starts as a local issue. Given its sparse population, long distances between settlements and lack of road infrastructure, here is how the Greenland government approaches the country’s waste issue.
Almost everything we consume and produce has an impact on our environment. When faced with daily choices to buy certain goods or services, we often do not think about their ‘footprints’ on the environment. Their shelf prices hardly ever reflect their true costs. But there are many things we can do to green our consumption and production.
In modern societies, almost everything consumes energy. It is not only electronic gadgets, household appliances or street lighting that need it. Bringing water to our homes or food products to our supermarkets also require energy. Current consumption and production patterns demand a steady and often increasing energy supply.
Waste without borders: Zhang Guofu, 35, makes EUR 700 a month, a huge wage in provincial China, sifting through waste that includes shopping bags from a British supermarket chain and English-language DVDs. The truth is that waste placed in a bin in London, can quite easily end up 5 000 miles away in a recycling factory in China's Pearl River delta.
Around 70 % of our planet is covered by oceans and marine litter can be found almost everywhere. Marine litter, plastics in particular, pose a threat not only to the health of our seas and coasts, but also to our economy and our communities. Most marine litter is generated by land-based activities. How can we stop the flow of litter into our seas? The best place to start tackling this global marine problem is on land.
Our quality of life, health and jobs all depend on the environment. However, the way and the rate we are using up natural resources today risk undermining our well-being along with nature’s ability to provide for us. We need to fundamentally transform the way we produce, consume and live. We need to green our economy and the transition needs to start today.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
PDF generated on 20 Oct 2014, 08:58 PM