Production, consumption & waste

Production, consumption & waste

What is Production, consumption and waste?

The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialised countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.

Measures should be undertaken to ensure the protection and enhancement of the environment whilst special attention should be paid to the demand for natural resources generated by unsustainable consumption. 

Although consumption patterns are very high in certain parts of the world, the basic consumer needs of a large section of humanity are not being met. This results in excessive demands and unsustainable lifestyles among the richer segments, which place immense stress on the environment. The poorer segments, meanwhile, are unable to meet food, health care, shelter and educational needs. Changing consumption patterns will require a multi-pronged strategy focusing on demand, meeting the basic needs of the poor, and reducing wastage and the use of finite resources in the production process.

Growing recognition of the importance of addressing consumption has also not yet been matched by an understanding of its implications. Some economists are questioning traditional concepts of economic growth and underlining the importance of pursuing economic objectives that take account of the full value of natural resource capital. More needs to be known about the role of consumption in relation to economic growth and national policies.

In relation to waste, environmentally sound management must go beyond the mere safe disposal or recovery of wastes that are generated and seek to address the root cause of the problem by attempting to change unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. This implies the application of the integrated life cycle management concept, which presents a unique opportunity to reconcile development with environmental protection.


Agenda 21, Chapter 4

Also consider other forms of waste and the implications: Toxic chemicals, Hazardous Chemicals; Radioactive wastes

Key questions for this area

If you are teaching or studying in the Production, Consumption and Waste areas, or are looking to add content to your unit, following are some questions that you should be able to answer and/or consider:

  • How can society attain a high level of production and consumption and simultaneously minimise waste as well as carbon emissions?
  • How feasible are green technologies and green fuels for mass scale adoption in the current economic environment? 
  •  What can we do to ensure that society moves on a green growth path from now on?
  • Given current restructuring and the shift of global financial influences to the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations, what would be the impact on future consumption and production patterns?
  • Examine the key mechanisms to drive sustainable consumption and production and evaluate the efficacy to bring about change.  
    • Resource efficiency in production, ranging from incorporating energy efficiency practices in production, to the use of raw materials and inputs which do not result in further exploitation of our natural resources, and to production, which would ensure recycling of resources to the maximum extent possible;
    • Incentivising green procurement for both public and private actors through a slew of tax concessions and rebates and penalising non-green procurement by higher tax rates and other fiscal means.
    • Putting in place a framework of robust parameters to measure the standards of products and production processes to assess their eco-friendliness and to ensure a progressive improvement in product design, production and packaging, accompanied by systems for product information and eco-labelling;
    • Supporting eco-innovation and creating global markets for innovative, sustainable products;
    • Communication and education initiatives for sustainable lifestyles.
  • Review the economic and political issues to place a value on natural capital - natural resources and ecosystem services.

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, check out our resources for inspiration.

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