Waste is produced through the transport of materials to the manufacturing facility, through the manufacturing process itself, and then through the transportation of the finished product to you, the consumer. The manufacturing sector of the United States consumes nearly half of the energy used by the country per year. Since most of this energy is in the form of electrical energy, and most of this electrical energy is produced through the use of coal fired power plants, the first waste product released by manufacturing, clearly is in the form of air polluting elements such as acid rain and smog forming particulates. I might also add, that, two thirds of this energy is lost (wasted) even before it completes its journey from the electrical generating plant to along the high tension wires and into the manufacturing plant where it can be used.
This is part of the waste that we don't even see and which comes hidden in the products and packaging that we purchase. In Europe, a full fifty percent of the solid waste produced per capita per year is produced by manufacturing and mining activities. This will give you a feel for the magnitude of waste that is actually involved in manufacturing. According to the same set of statistics, municipal trash in Europe only accounts for twenty-five percent of the solid waste. (htttp://themes.eea.europa.eu ) What this means is that the gadget you buy today has, in the days now past, sent two times as much trash into the land fill already as it will, on that day in the future, when you finally throw the gadget out.
Unfortunately, that isn't the whole story either. Once it has been manufactured, a new product will consume almost as much energy to ship the newly manufactured product to its future home as was used to produce this product in the first place. This transport energy is consumed at an even bigger loss than the electrical energy which was used in the manufacturing process itself was subject to. According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, June, 2004, of all the energy consumed by transportation in the United States only twenty percent of the fuel energy is actually converted into usable energy. The rest is wasted in the inefficiencies of the internal combustion engines that power the trucks that do the transporting.
Finally, when an item is eventually discarded and either is sent to the landfill or to a garbage incinerator, it continues to impact the environment in other ways such as through:
- contributing to the leaching of nutrients, heavy metals and other toxic compounds,
- taking over land to add to the landfill (the average American produces nearly a ton of trash per year),
- the emission of smog producing gases resulting from the decomposition processes in landfills and in the treatment of organic waste,
- air pollution and toxic by-products from incinerators,
- air and water pollution and secondary waste streams from recycling plants
- increased transport with heavy trucks.
For these reasons, the impact of our efforts to reduce waste will be much greater than they may appear to be and that is why 'Reduce' is the first of the three R's of recycling, 're-use' is the second and 'recycle' only comes in at the end. Become conscious of how to reduce waste if you want to reduce your environmental footprint.