World extracts 60 billion tons of natural resources last 25 years, one fifth go waste – OECD

About 60 billion tons of natural resources have been extracted globally between 1980 and 2005, Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a new report November 22, 2012.

The resources extracted over the 25-year period are minerals, wood, metals, fossil and biomass fuels, and construction materials, according to the OECD’s report, Sustainable Materials Management.

On average, 10 tons of the resources are equivalent for each person living on this earth, the report said.

It further stated that of the 60 billion tons of the natural resources, “about one fifth ends up as waste” and must be reused, recycled or disposed of in a way that is safe for people and the environment.

Despite the emergence of new technologies which have allowed greater resource efficiencies, the OECD observes that the volume of natural resources extracted has increased 65% over the past 25 years.

The growing of the world population, the deteriorating environment and increasing raw materials prices are said to be pushing governments, industry and citizens to look for ways to reduce waste, costs and health hazards.

The OECD report threw more light on the benefits of a ‘green’ cradle-to-grave approach – from the extraction of raw materials, through design, production and consumer use, to the end of the product’s life.

The report gave examples of the hidden environmental costs that only become apparent when a whole-of-life-cycle approach is taken.

–    Production of one ton of copper emits seven tons of CO2 and uses 70 tons of water.

–    Recycling paper products saves 7 up to 19 GJ of energy per ton compared to the virgin manufacture of paper.

–    Today’s washing machines halve energy and water use compared to those purchased 10 years ago – extending the machine’s life generates less waste but increases its impact on the climate, air and water.

–    Food has a larger environmental footprint than the packaging wrapped around it. As milk production generates five times more CO2 than the carton it comes in, wasting milk is worse for the environment than buying smaller containers.

The report recommended new ways to further decouple economic growth from environmental degradation explaining that material flows involve many stakeholders throughout the supply chain and often over wide geographic areas, governments need to work closely with industry and other stakeholders in order to encourage cooperation, innovation and cost savings.

In order to improve resource efficiency, the OECD says governments’ role is to put in place the regulations, economic incentives, trade and innovation policies as well as enhancing information sharing. “This will demand a whole-of-government approach to ensure coherence across different policy areas,” the group added.

It recommended that industry should use designs that reduce products’ negative health and environmental impacts through their life-cycle.

And for citizens, the OECD advised that they need to make more informed choices, reducing use of unnecessary material, reusing and recycling, and taking advantage of advanced technologies to limit waste and toxins.

By Ekow Quandzie

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