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A Disposable World? Facts That Are Mind-boggling.

30 May, 2013

If the entire world lived like the average American, we’d need 5 planets to provide enough resources. Even if you’re the most dedicated treehugger out there, if you’re American, your carbon footprint is still double the per-capita average of most of the world.  Though America would have to reduce our carbon-emitting habits by 83% in order to be sustainable, that’s not quite as insurmountable as it sounds.

A shift toward renewable energy, conservation, more efficient waste management and greater concentrations of people living in dense urban communities will go far toward decreasing our carbon footprint as a nation.

20 to 50 million metric tons of electronic waste are generated worldwide every year. Only 11.4% of that is recovered for “recycling”, and of that amount, very little actually ends up getting recycled. The crew of 60 Minutes recently followed a container of e-waste that was supposed to be headed for recycling, that was instead illegally dumped in China. Toxic chemicals like cadmium, lead, mercury, chromium and polyvinyl chlorides from these discarded electronics contaminate poor Hong Kong communities.  And, the problem is getting worse by the day:  electronic waste is the fastest-growing waste stream worldwide.  Americans throw out about 130,000 computers every day, and over 100 million cell phones annually.

America is the queen of trash. Every day in the U.S., we produce enough trash to equal the weight of the Empire State Building. We throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, produce enough styrofoam cups annually to circle the earth 436 times and trash enough office paper to build a 12-foot wall form Los Angeles to New York City. We throw away 570 disposable diapers each second, and toss out enough aluminum cans to rebuild our commercial air fleet every three months. Each year we fill enough garbage trucks to stretch from Earth halfway to the moon.

And of course, not all trash even makes it to the landfill. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a swirling vortex of waste and debris in the Pacific Ocean, covers an area twice the size of the continental U.S. and is believed to hold almost 100 million tons of garbage.

The heavy brown clouds of pollution that hover over Asia are now spreading as far as to the west coast of the U.S. Much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.  Only 1% of China’s 560 million city residents breathe air that is considered safe by the European Union. And, this severe air pollution problem, which has led to cancer becoming China’s leading cause of death, is no longer affecting the Chinese people alone. China’s dirty air is spreading across the globe as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed by the country’s many factories and coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain upon South Korea and Japan. Less than 1% of the world’s freshwater is readily available for human use. The amount of water that’s safe for us to use is declining sharply due to pollution and contamination. 87% of freshwater resources are used for agriculture, as much of 60% of that is wasted due to inefficient watering systems.

With the population boom and global warming, we’re going to be fighting over water by mid-century. In fact, in Asia – where water has always been considered an abundant resource – per capita availability of freshwater has declined by 40%-60% between 1955 and 1990, and most Asian countries are expected to have severe water shortages by 2025.

Despite these problems, many people – Americans and Australians in particular – are wasting water as if it will always be plentiful. The average American uses far more water than citizens of other countries – about 550 liters per day. The average American household uses 300 gallons of water daily, with many wasting thousands of gallons every year on lawn irrigation.

Within 10 years, wind power could provide 20% of America’s power. North Dakota alone could theoretically produce enough wind-generated power to meet the needs of more than a fourth of U.S. electricity demand. And, offshore wind turbines have the potential to produce as much power as all of the power plants in the United States. America definitely needs a new modernized power grid to harness wind energy, but as T. Boone Pickens points out, “If the government commits to modernizing our nation’s power grid in the same fashion that we modernized our highways, we can make some serious progress in a relatively short time.”

Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees, 2 barrels of oil, 4,100 kilowatts of energy, 3.2 cubic yards of landfill space and 60 pounds of air pollution. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough electricity to power a TV for three hours, and aluminum cans can be recycled an unlimited number of times. Recycling a ton of glass saves the equivalent to 9 gallons of oil. Increasing steel recycling by 50% would save the energy equivalent to 7 nuclear power plants.

These statistics show just how important recycling really is, and how much we need to ramp it up!  It starts with you doing your part.

Mind-Boggling Green Facts & Enviro-Stats by Steph in History & Trivia, Nature & Ecosystems, Science & Research, WebEcoist.

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