Greenomics:Transition to a sustainable pattern of Production and Consumption

The green economy embraces a vision that tries to steer economic development in the direction of sustainability. According to the current understanding of the green economy concept, one of the main elements which support the transition to a more sustainable pattern of production and consumption is Waste minimization and management. It considers different approaches from prevention, minimization, reduction, reuse, recycling, waste conversion and disposal in order to ensure that the use of materials and waste generation remains within the regenerative and absorptive capacities of the Planet.

World being flounced over by a strong wave of urbanization
World being flounced over by a strong wave of urbanization

The world is being flounced over by a strong wave of urbanization. From an urban population of around one billion in 1960, it took 25 years to add the second billion and only 18 to add the third. And it is projected that it will take just 15 years for the global urban population to cross four billion. In fact, about 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to reside in cities by 2050.

As population in cities around the world surges, it puts greater pressure on infrastructure already struggling to keep pace with the requirements of its residents, emphasizing the needs for higher investments in infrastructure development. OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimates that about 3.5 percent of the global GDP, will have to be invested through 2030 in order to improve the basic infrastructure worldwide, including road, rail, telecoms, electricity and water infrastructure.

And this won’t be all. Cities will also have to bear the cost of mitigating their impacts on the environment to ensure that urbanization does not take place at the expense of planet earth. Considering that cities account for as much as 80 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the World Bank estimates that urban areas will have to account for up to 80 percent of the expected $80-100 billion per year in climate change adaptation costs. Bearing in mind their higher efficiency in providing basic services than suburban or rural areas, cities that enforce energy-efficiency measures and adopt renewable energy sources – in other words, sustainable cities – will be able to make a significant positive impact in containing climate change.

Waste chokes India
Waste chokes India

In the same context the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said that the world would not have to dig so much metal out of the ground if it strongly embraced recycling, which could be higher. Dr Thomas Graedel, a professor at Yale University maintained that smarter product designs and support for developing country waste management schemes would encourage recycling.

Furthering developed country households not to hide away old electronic goods in drawers and closets could help. Recycling rates of metals are in many cases far lesser than their potential re use. Most preferably metals can be used over and over again. Do we actually need to keep digging it out of the ground?

A report states 34 elements have recycling rates below 1%, many of these are crucial for clean technologies such as batteries for hybrid cars to magnets in wind turbines. It added that – In spite of significant efforts in a number of countries and regions, many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low. The weak performance is especially trying because unlike some other resources, metals are inherently recyclable.

Recycled waste can yield several alternative energy products, building materials and handicrafts.
Recycled waste can yield several alternative energy products, building materials and handicrafts.

Recycling more would minimize the need to mine and process ore, which would save large amounts of energy and water. That would add to a shift to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy. It added that extracting ore currently accounts for 7% of the world’s energy consumption. Undeniably, by majority estimates recycling metals is between two and 10 times more efficient than smelting the metal from virgin ores.

Practically every city in India wants to transform into a world-class city, leaving no space for the omnipresent waste-picker. Municipal corporations have on their drawing boards plans for machines that will do summary treatment of garbage, either hauling it out of sight to landfills or burning it. But, it’s high time that our government and in turn the municipal bodies realize that recycled waste can yield several alternative energy products, building materials and handicrafts. For instance, 80% of the iron furnaces in Ahmedabad closed due to the global financial crisis. Possibly they can be linked to the metal scrap that is piling up. This would have a livelihood protection as well as value addition effect. There are similar idle industrial capacities which can be used by the waste-pickers.

Technologies for changing over waste into value are available so that the waste can be processed and marketed with incentives—a resource for self-help groups and construction firms. Lastly, a stimulus or a budgetary allocation can be made to initiate a special credit and technology-providing scheme for diffused recycling of waste by the green-collar workers.

Author: Abhishek Ranjan
Abhishek is a Business Journalist in the making. He blogs at simplifyingbusiness.wordpress.com

Greenomics is a 6 part series which will be published every Friday. The next part to this series will be published on the 10th of June.

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