Waste in US Economy

May 9, 2015

…18 billion tons or so (about 90 percent of all raw material inputs) got turned into wastes and emissions by producers, all before any goods were delivered to consumers.” Earlier he writes, relying on physicist-economist Robert Ayres that in 1993, excluding water, total inputs in US economy were 20.8 billion metric tons of raw materials. Outputs were .5 billion metric tons or 508 million metric tons of which about 400 is exports and food, only 100 million metric tons is what we think of as consumer products. So even if “consumers recycled everything they purchased — that 100 million metric tons of actual products — ….they would be recycling less than 1 percent of the environmental recourses actually used in the U.S. economy.” William Freudenburg, Polluters’ Shell Game, World Watch, January-February 2009, 18-19. He stresses that logically we should therefore focus on the waste and pollution in the production process and when we do that discover that it is a small minority of companies are responsible for huge share of pollution. EPA says most toxic sector of US economy is primary metals in which there are 7 specific industries. And just one of them — “primary nonferrous metals” —“is responsible for more than half of all toxic risks from the entire primary metals sector.” [19] “…eliminating the most heavily polluting 10 percent of firms…would reduce total toxic risks from the entire industry by more than 97 percent.” [me taking off from him: by blaming consumers for wanting too much comfort etc we take the heat off worst polluters. We communicate that the waste is inevitable. Because of grain-fed meat “we indirectly ‘drink’ about a thousand times as much water in the food we eat” as we consume in liquids. Cites Pimentel 12,000 gals/pound of beef.


Source: William Freudenburg, Polluters’ Shell Game, World Watch, January-February 2009, 18-19. Professor U.C. Santa Barbara.

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