11 TREND: Using Design for a Waste-free, Energy-efficient Future
As the world continues to become a majority urban place in the 21st century, the issue of waste will become even more vexing. Just as people move to urban areas to improve their life chances and standard of living, the things that they use to improve their standard of living – consumer electronics, clothing, higher-quality foods, furniture – all generate waste. Much of this waste, as a result of current production methods, produces toxic waste that ends up in municipal dump sites or is thrown away to clutter streets and greenspaces. toxic waste created in the developed countries often is shipped to developing countries, where it is recycled or disposed of, sometimes using child labour and in violation of appropriate environmental standards.
A World Bank study projects a 70 per cent global increase in urban solid waste, with developing countries facing the greatest challenges. This report estimates that the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) will rise from the current 1.3 billion tonnes per year to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025. Much of the increase will come in rapidly growing cities in developing countries.
By 2050, two out of every three people on the planet will live in a city. This will place unprecedented stress on the world’s natural resources if things do not change.
As living standards rise and the number of middleclass consumers grows in developing countries and emerging markets, it is clear that replicating the wasteful consumption patterns of the developed world will do irreparable harm to the planet. At present, the world’s wealthiest 20 per cent of people consume 75 per cent of the planet’s resources (World Bank).
“We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal. We are using 50 per cent more resources than the Earth can sustainably produce and unless we change course, that number will grow fast: by 2030 even two planets will not be enough,” said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.
The Living Planet Report uses the global Living Planet Index to measure changes in the health of the planet’s ecosystems by tracking 9,000 populations of more than 2,600 species. The global Index shows almost a 30 per cent decrease since 1970, with the tropics the hardest hit – where there has been a 60 per cent decline in less than 40 years. Just as biodiversity is on a downward trend, the earth’s ecological footprint, one of the other key indicators used in the report, illustrates how the planet’s demand on natural resources has become unsustainable.
In order to calculate what is a sustainable use of resources per person, the ecological footprint was devised. Given the current world population and available land area, an ecological footprint of less than 1.8 global hectares per person makes a country’s resource demands globally replicable. The top10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per personare: australia, belgium, canada, denmark, ireland, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and the United States of America. Citizens of the United States are consuming resources at a rate that, if done by every person on earth, would require 4.1 earth-sized planets.
Wealthy countries have an ecological footprint five times larger than that of low-income countries.
“We can create a prosperous future that provides food, water and energy for the 9 or perhaps 10 billion people who will be sharing the planet in 2050,” added Leape. “Solutions lie in such areas as reducing waste, smarter water management and using renewable sources of energy that are clean and abundant – such as wind and sunlight.”
The world needs to build a genuine green economy to tackle these challenges. A green economy tends to be seen as an economy that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit. And the energy sources for this green economy need to change. United Nations Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has called for a doubling of renewable energy in the mix of energy sources by 2030.
Read on to find innovators building a green economy that works and learn from their experience.
In addition, the infographics on pages 6 to 7 and on pages 28 to 29 attempt to paint a picture of the challenges and offer a new way of looking at things to find better solutions.
Sources: World Bank, WWF International, Living Planet Report.