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The Throw-Away Society

any countries bury and forget millions of tonnes of rubbish every year. But we don't have to throw away all our waste paper, glass, metal and plastic. We can also burn or recycle a lot of it. In fact waste can be wonderful stuff. The Green World dossier reports.


The average person in Los Angeles throws away 7 kilos of rubbish every day. The average person in the Third World throws away only 1 kilo of rubbish every day. Britain throws away 7 million tonnes of paper every year. That's the same as 80 million trees.

In one year, a European family with two children throws away:

- 50 kilos of paper (that's six trees)

- 60 kilos of metal

- 45 kilos of plastic (that doesn't sound like a lot of plastic, but it is. You need 300,000 supermarket carrier bags to make one tonne).

In one year, the average person throws away 71 food cans, 34 cans of pet food and 68 drinks cans. Britain produces 3.5 billion cans per year. Half are for food and half are for drinks. That's enough to go to the moon and back and half-way to the moon again. England and Wales produce 500 tonnes of rubbish every year. This costs £600 million to collect and bury.


Almost all supermarket food today comes in paper or plastic containers. Some of this “packaging” is necessary. It keeps the food clean and fresh. It also makes it last longer. But some packaging isn't necessary at all. It's just there to make the food look better.

Did you know....?

1. In Britain, over 75,000 people work in packaging factories.

2. The UK packaging industry sells £4 billion of paper and plastic containers every year.

3. 28% of domestic rubbish is packaging.

4. 5% of ail Britain's energy goes into making packaging.

Here are the ways to beat the throw-away society. All of them are cleaner and cheaper than burying rubbish.

The Green Answers

1. Throw Away Less Rubbish

In Denmark, for example, it's illegal to sell drinks in cans. And it's not just governments which can produce less rubbish. It's ordinary people, too. For example, anyone can decide to

  1. buy products with as little packaging as possible;

  2. use and throw away fewer carrier bags;
  3. waste less paper.

2. Turn Rubbish into Energy

How? By burning it. This is a good idea because it

  1. saves fossil fuels;

  2. means burying less rubbish;

  3. cuts pollution.

Energy from rubbish is cleaner and 11 cheaper than energy from fossil fuels. At the moment, most countries only turn between 5% and 10% of their rubbish into energy.

3. Use Rubbish Again

lot of what we throw away is still useful. It's possible, in fact, to recycle 80% of domestic rubbish. This includes most kinds of paper, glass, metal and plastic. But there's a problem. Recycling is expensive. That's (at the moment) we only recycle about 15% of glass, 20% of plastic and 30% of paper. But it's getting cheaper and easier to recycle all the time. One reason for this is the growing number of recycling centres. (For example, there are more “bottle banks” today than ever before.)

Also, some countries now have recycling laws. These mean that supermarkets pay customers to return tins and bottles.