Eco-Living Magazine

Five Friday Facts: Industrial Waste

Posted on the 27 January 2012 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Five Friday Facts: Industrial WasteAs a follow up to yesterday’s post detailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most recent Toxics report, comes today’s Five Friday Facts. The EPA compared many of the 2010 figures to 2000. The facts below come from Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins (the latter two are co-founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute). Their book, published in 1999, gives a good idea as to the vast waste produced during industrial processes at the end of the previous century.

  • Fresh Kills – the world’s largest dumping ground, located in Staten Island, New York – provided a repository for the daily garbage of New York City’s boroughs. The landfill receives 26 million pounds of commercial and household waste per day. Covering four square miles and rising more than a hundred feet high, it contains 2.9 billion cubic feet of trash, consisting of 100 million tons of newspaper, paint cans, potato peels, polystyrene clamshells, chicken bones, soggy breakfast cereals, cigarette butts, Coke cans, dryer lint, and an occasional corpse. As massive as it is, it takes in just 0.018 percent of the waste generated in the United States daily. Americans and American industry create or dispose of an additional 5,500 times as much solid waste elsewhere.
  • Industry moves, mines, extracts, shovels, burns, wastes, pumps, and disposes of 4 million pounds of material in order to provide one average middle-class American family’s needs for one year.
  • American waste or cause to be wasted nearly 1 million pounds of materials per person per year. This figure includes: 3.5 billion pounds (920 million square yards) of carpet landfilled, 3.3 trillion pounds of carbon in CO2 gas emitted into the atmosphere, 19 billion pounds of polystyrene peanuts, 28 billion pounds of food discarded at home, 360 billion pounds of organic and inorganic chemicals used for manufacturing and processing, 710 billion pounds of hazardous waste generated by chemical production, and 3.7 trillion pounds of material flows, and do not account for wastes generated overseas on our behalf.
  • The Freeport McMoRan gold mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, annually generates 400 pounds of tailings and toxic waste for every man, woman, and child in the United States.
  • Total annual wastes in the United States, excluding wastewater, now exceed 50 trillion pounds a year. If wastewater is factored in, the total annual flow of waste in the American industrial system is 250 trillion pounds. Less than 2 percent of the total waste stream is actually recycled – primarily paper, glass, plastic, aluminum, and steel. Over the course of a decade, 500 trillion pounds of American resources will have been transformed into nonproductive solids and gases.

Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

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